This is a review of "Kisses/Curses" recorded by Ali Whitton. The review was written by Lauren Strain in 2005.
“What is love except a way to lose a friend? What is life except a means to an end? What are you except a reason for me to show a little hope?”
Okay, okay, so I’m an over-emotional little soul; therefore, I will automatically take under my wing any waif-like ‘singer-songwriter’ (there are those heinous words again) with a tear stirring behind their eye and a pitiful rip in their denims, no matter if they’re good, middling, or, quite frankly, rubbish, out-of-tune whine-bags. In this current state of disrepair, desolation and... stuff... you may even cynically suggest that I’d bawl my eyes out at any given opportunity; even at Ben Affleck’s terrible bout of ‘acting’ in ‘Pearl Harbour’ or something. Well, fine – but I assure you that I’m not overreacting here when I say that Ali Whitton’s debut album plants a lump in my throat so colossal that it could both raise and re-sink the Titanic. When I listened to ‘Kisses/Curses’ through for the first time, I failed to breathe for about an hour. I’m alright now, though, so let’s get started.
Fluttering throughout the album, from opening track ‘Sunrise’ to ‘Give It Time’ and ‘Heavy’, are the beautiful vocals of Sam Stockdale, intertwining with and overlapping Ali’s delicate melodies, creating sheaves of sweet, melodic barley, flowering and blossoming in the spring light. The charming ‘Poet and a Spaceman’ is one-minute-and-thirty-one-seconds of restful, wry smiles, a vignette seen from the brushing back of a net curtain, revealing a glance into the midnight pot oil of sky where the stars are suspended in a mesh of lonely silence. There are fields, deserted barns, hills. These sorts of scenes are constantly painted and recreated in my mind as I listen to the windchimes of ‘The Storm’ which tinkle a hazy rain over the proceedings before the viola's deep, low howls catapult us up towards a violent scraping and jarring of the frets; the caterwauling, distressed strings are taut, almost on the point of snapping.
There’s something wistfully coastal, gently panoramic about this record. It’s full of heritage and landscape; all of its views are quietly sublime, modestly empty and isolated. There are lilting chills, breeze-touched moors, enclosures of trees. I dunno, maybe I’m just silly, idealistic romantic who really wants to go to Scotland very, very badly (which I do) – but I think that Whitton’s sketched portrayals emanate with some kind of archaic mysticism, some special sort of deep soul.
This album is searching, questioning; but, ultimately, accepting. Here’s a man who seems to know that life and love will never yield their secrets to us; and so he’s quite simply wondering at it all, taking it all in, describing it and helping us to understand it a little better. I’ve never heard the most complicated of things put in the most human, universal (“We all end up just like everybody else...”) and acknowledging of ways.
Oh, and the man is playing at Futuresound 2005. Go support; you’d have a coronary system made of granite and a sensitivity plunged into the deep freeze not to be affected by this. Take a tissue and a heart-warmed smile.