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A Magazine for Sheffield


The year is 2009. The month is October. Mumford and Sons have just released their debut album of offensively inoffensive pop songs to mixed reviews; lapped up by CD-buying middle England and glossy magazinesponsored award ceremonies, but chastised by chin stroking musos. On the very same day, Nancy Elizabeth’s second LP, Wrought Iron, is released. Reception-wise, she has pretty much the opposite effect. In the intervening years, Nancy Elizabeth dived for cover to take stock after an intense period of touring, while Mumford and Sons landed on the nation’s coffee tables and TVs, prompting an assiduous and unrelenting wave of twee backing tracks to the corporate guff emanating from your widescreen.

There’s no real reason for pointing out this temporal coincidence, unless you’d like to create your own.

I suppose it conveniently depicts the divergent paths of modern folkies. It’s a lament, of sorts, much like Nancy’s lyrical content. Having been seamlessly compared with critical hyperbole magnet and harpist Joanna Newsom following past records, perhaps she has unwittingly chosen the right time to step back into more fertile ground with Dancing. Now she is surrounded by other female folkies who are best suited in venues like churches, which she has previously commanded, and her songs bear comparisons. Certainly, ‘Indelible Day’ and ‘Shimmering Song’ have all the hallmarks recently rubber stamped by Laura J Martin.

On the topic of her chromosome contemporaries – Stealing Sheep, Literature Thieves and the like – the main similarity is vocally. All opt for the pitches of Sandy Denny, Joni Mitchell and their 1960s folky counterparts, but it’s not a pastoral frolic around in daisy chains, cheesecloth shirts and flares. Not by any stretch.

Perhaps influenced by her diversely assembled label mates – Murcof, Efterklang and Polar Bear among them – Nancy finds herself drawn to non-conformism. ‘All Mouth’ is a layered vocal loop evoking the polychoral Julianna Barwick and sharing ground with musique concrète. ‘Early Sleep’ is backed by the mechanical clamour of a Caribou soaring into the ‘Sun’, relenting into solemn chorals atop a softened background hubbub. ‘Mexico’ is an unsettling haunter aided by piano arrangements akin to John Carpenter, and ‘Debt’ bursts into pounding processed beats.

Fortunately, this is the antithesis of Mumford and Sons’ brand of folk, even if not illustrated by synchronous record release dates this time around.