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The Unthanks Emily Brontë

Emily Brontë
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Lines, a series of recently commissioned works, is compiled here as a song cycle in three parts. The trilogy explores the lesser-sought perspectives of women throughout history, concerning industrial disaster in Lillian Bilocca and war in World War One. The third instalment, Emily Brontë, sets the Wuthering Heights author's overlooked poetry to music. Brontë's dense imagery and iambic verse are an intuitive candidate for musical adaptation, and her themes of isolation and loss are conveyed perfectly in the haunting voices of the Unthank sisters.

The Unthanks' airy voices blend perfectly, but crucial differences allow them stylistic and emotional breadth. Rachel's distinctly warmer, fuller timbre imbues the songs she leads with humanity. Becky's voice is outright ethereal, less like the product of human vocal cords than the harnessed whispers of seashells or moorland breezes.

These voices intertwine in endless configurations. On 'High Waving Heather', they tumble after one another in hasty call and response as lyrics speed through scenes of tumultuous nature. On 'The Night Is Darkening Round Me', they join in tight-knit harmony before Becky ascends, alone, into a fraught higher register, as though calling into an empty and unresponsive night.

Meanwhile, spare piano arrangements evoke the isolation of being a Brontë. 'Lines', which lends the series its title, is the record's emotional centerpiece, its rushing triplet arpeggios recalling the piano work of Yann Tiersen. At seven minutes, it almost feels too long, but subtle shifts in the harmonies and arrangement allow it enough variation to maintain its emotive pull.

Andrew Trayford

Next article in issue 131

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