Recently, a national news outlet ran a piece on how folk music has regained its footing at grassroots level after being hijacked by waistcoated impostors such as Mumford & Sons for profit. Folk is, they were attempting to point out, just as linked to communities and the people in them as any movement begun on any street.
This Is The Kit’s Kate Stables appeared in the piece, having been bracketed in amongst a cluster of acts who’ve kept the movement’s hearth lit whilst the Trustafarians made it briefly accessible to festival audiences. Off Off On is (in the least possessive sense) her band’s fifth album and one that deals with very modern issues as opposed to the blunted blandishments of the recent past.
Describing what folk is becomes part of the conundrum. Stables’ voice – light of touch, wistful and pure – gives songs like the fragile opener Found Out the sort of pattering, bucolic ambience that might be recognised easiest by non-judges. This is confounded almost immediately however by the mood-laden, almost grungy opening to Started Again, which as if to emphasise its unwillingness to nest then introduces subtle brass to the flame, the refrain ‘rocks and water’ either warning of impending doom or the simplest pleasures of being outside and free from the chains of money, technology and public face which trap us.
A theme is about the nature of being a modern human, of accepting struggle with a small ‘s’ as experienced by everyone except the very few. On This Is What You Did, the minutiae of a panic attack are examined like chicken bones strung out on a concrete floor, the singer wrestling with demons that are, ‘The negative voices of other people that are your own voice’.
It would be easy enough for the cynical to write off tales of malaise as coming from an artist at least privileged enough to be able to have a platform to express them. The riposte lies here on Carry Us Please, the singer throwing garlic and roses out at the energy vampires which haunt: ‘You won’t make this change by slagging things off/ go get some ideas / now what have you got?’.
This pragmatism which needs to face lurking demons, doing whatever the Id needs to wave and not drown, is underlined on the gently dusted closer Keep Going, but before that the title-track deals with the death in hospital of a close friend, of the senses drawing back from grief and placing the world into focus as the person left after trauma recognises the need to prevail.
Fighting, surviving: our basic instincts which over time have best been served by the player in the corner with just some verses and a guitar or anything else with strings, people who told stories for a living long before the modern convention made it a turgid societal pursuit.
Off Off On lives where people and life collide, a place as old as time.