This is a review of "Bright Day" recorded by Feldspar. The review was written by Jessica Thornsby in 2009.
'Bright Day' from folk-inspired Feldspar is a prime example of how you can keep on repeating a winning formula, until it loses its shine. Over the course of these ten songs, you'll gradually become immune to Feldspar's heart wrenching, orchestra-tinged folk, as they retread the same ground time and time again. 'Bright Day' may be a bit of a slog to sit through from beginning to end, but taken in chunks, these songs are a pleasure to listen to.
With a solid base of reverberating cello and a top player of shiver-inducing piano refrains, album-opener 'The Window' is yearning, orchestra-infused folk at its finest. At almost five minutes in length, it may be a long, slow tearjerker, but the lavish orchestral flourishes help to keep things interesting.
A quick glance at the album case, reveals that Feldspar have a saxophone player. I was dubious as to where this instrument would fit into Feldspar's downbeat orchestral folk, and the answer is simple: it doesn't. 'Bright Day' features two saxophone arrangements; one on second track 'Black Ribbon' and the other on 'The Garden.' Both are far too cheerful for the songs. Even worse, Feldspar are under the impression that a piping saxophone and clunking acoustic guitar, make a winning combination on the end-section of 'The Garden.'
Thankfully though, the saxophone is relegated to the tail-end of both songs. Apart from the thirty seconds of saxophone, 'Black Ribbon' is all swirling pianos, rattling acoustic guitars and a cello that alternates between stormy background grumbles and a haunting wail.
On the downside, after a while, the relentlessness of 'Black Ribbon's clunking guitars becomes a little distracting. Placing them deeper in the mix, or softening their tinny edge would allow the listener to better appreciate the song's subtleties.
The other saxophone song, 'The Garden' showcases some surprisingly powerful vocal work from usually softly-sung Green, as he periodically launches into a plaintive holler. It's almost two minutes before the cello and the piano really make their presence felt, but Green's voice has enough range and charisma to keep the listener spellbound.
Feldspar abandon the orchestra embellishments for three back-to-basics ballads; 'Visions and Motions,' 'Waterfall Lane' and 'Jenny's Cafe.'
The most accomplished of the trio, 'Waterfall Lane' begins by focusing on Green's aching vocals, with only a very restrained use of acoustic guitar. Here, 'Waterfall Lane' is at its most affecting, as Green has a very charismatic and honest-sounding voice. When the cello is brought in, Green has to put more power into his voice in order to rise above it and, as a result, the quiet, reverential mood is lost.
The folky 'Jenny's Cafe' follows suit, taking an engaging, softly-softly approach to begin with, before Feldspar force the song to a wrenching, emotional high, only to lose that quiet connection with the listener. The opening half layers shimmering, brightly-plucked chords over a clattering acoustic refrain, with plenty of Green's heartfelt vocals thrown in for good measure. However, Feldspar then keep layering on the acoustic guitars, until 'Jenny's Cafe' gains an unpleasant, clunking edge.
The twinkling balladry of 'Visions and Motions' also makes good use of sharply-plucked chords and twangy slide-guitar. Feldspar pick up the tempo after a while, with passages of more forceful vocals that determinedly give the acoustic guitar a run for its money. It's a pleasant acoustic ballad, but, as already mentioned, the major problem with 'Bright Day' is that it's all played out at the same level. 'Visions and Motions' crops up at the tail-end of the track listing and by this point, Feldspar's forlorn balladry has definitely lost its edge. There's only so many mournful vocals, glimmering melodies and plaintive strings you can take during the course of one album.
This is also an issue with 'Sweet Kid.' Although it's coloured with resonating piano and prettily twanging acoustic guitar, it's nothing we haven't heard before. Perhaps some additional string arrangements would give it that final, emotional suckerpunch needed to win over the increasingly jaded listener. The same is true of 'Long Way Home,' which would be beautiful and moving on its own, but doesn't bring anything new to the table in the context of this album.
However, if there's one track guaranteed to raise the listener from their ballad-induced fatigue, it's penultimate track 'Tell Her,' which is the album's most insistent tearjerker. The folkish combination of rattling acoustic guitar and Green's gentle vocals, is tempered by rumbling piano and cello, which put a dramatic spin on 'Tell Her's sweet and charming country fare. But, what makes 'Tell Her' such an irresistible listen, is the final ten seconds, as shrieking strings and layered vocals lift the song to a heart wrenching high. No matter how tired you are of maudlin ballads, you can't help but fall in love with 'Tell Her.'
The album finishes in likeably low key fashion with acoustic title track 'Bright Day.' It's a beautiful and understated song but, again, some of its impact is lost because we've already heard nine different interpretations of this sort of music.
Listening to 'Bright Day' from beginning to end, probably ruins the Feldspar experience. A handful of upbeat numbers, spaced throughout the track listing, would have intensified the impact of their more sentimental numbers. The tone of 'Bright Day' is in a similar vein to Snow Patrol, only without the more upbeat 'single' tracks. One to be taken in small chunks, when you're in the mood for a bit of wistful balladry.