Album Review: Ardentjohn – Malin Head

Album cover artwork for Malin Head by Ardentjohn

Ardentjohn provide the perfect summer mix of sunshine and showers on their poignant new album Malin Head.

Although the band was originally formed in Edinburgh, the members of Ardentjohn – Mark Abbott (lead guitar), Seth Marron (drums/percussion), Keiron Mason (vocals/guitar), Alan Shields (vocals/bass) and Linda Tym (cello/vocals)  – now hail from all over. Maybe its creators not being tied to a particular location is what allows new album Malin Head (released 12 July via Adulation) to create a sense of place in the general sense.

That said, Malin Head Point is a real place – lying on the Inishowen Peninsula in County Donegal, at the most northerly tip of the island of Ireland. Historically it’s a site synonymous with farewells, as the departure point for people sailing to the promised new world, although you may recognise it as the location for Luke Skywalker’s home in The Last Jedi. The wild beauty of a place that has brought hope and sorrow to generations leaving their homeland, complements both the heart-wrenching and heartwarming moments on Malin Head. There is something incredibly evocative about this album, wherever you are when you hear it and wherever you’re from.

Album opener ‘Magic Everywhere’ is the musical equivalent of shards of dawn light spilling over hills, slowly illuminating everything. The swooning americana sound melting with swooping vocals creates a warmth that spreads as the song develops. It’s a track that reflects on the temporary nature of everything we hold dear  – “What would you say if I told you that none of this was here to stay?”. Title track ‘Malin Head’ also touches on loss through the idea of someone leaving and what it feels like to be left – “I waved til you were out of sight”. The song, fittingly, reminds me of standing on a cliff top being gently buffeted by the wind, with little gusts of accordion supporting the wandering guitar riffs. Ardentjohn use folk and americana to create a yearning sound and, with Keiron Mason’s vocals not being dissimilar to Chris Martin’s, this reminds me of early Parachutes-era Coldplay.

There are also plenty of summery tracks to bask in. ‘I Wasn’t There’ has the jangling guitars that are reminiscent of Belle & Sebastian, while the waltzing ‘To Be My Love’ has enough accordion to provide the soundtrack to strolling the French Riviera. ‘Orange Nights’ is as bright as a sunny day, with lyrics saying “life can’t get any better than this” and a shimmering and soaring climax. Mason sings “The sunshine man is here” and he’s right.

Considering its symbiotic relationship with a place connected to departure, Malin Head rightly closes with the atmospheric ‘The Long Goodbye’. It is a slow, instrumental reflection on calmer waters of the opening track ‘Magic Everywhere’. Ardentjohn have guided us full circle. The guitars that sound like whale song in the background of this track reflect the coastal view that the whole album conjures up. It’s a poignant way to say goodbye to a beautiful album.

Maybe it’s just because I’m lucky enough to live in Scotland, near to so many picturesque places, that I want to relate this album to breathtaking landscapes – known and imagined – but I think it’s likely you’ll make this connection too, wherever you are. 

Through their layered, folk-infused soundscapes, Ardentjohn have sonically painted a vista bathed in the summer sun. Be prepared for Malin Head to recall summer days cooled by a breeze of nostalgia and kindle happier memories to keep you warm in winter.

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