Folk music for today, what’s that then? Playing the old songs in new ways? Playing new songs in the old ways? Maybe the one tradition that’s certain is that the discussions will circle on and the definitions remain distant while the possibilities of the folk labelled soundscape remain endless. Step up once more Jayne Dent (aka Me Lost Me) a singer, songwriter and composer of singular quality and distinction whose beguiling new album ‘RPG’ is out now on Upset The Rhythm.
It’s the Newcastle based musician’s third full album after 2018’s ‘Arcana’ and ‘The Good Noise’ in 2020 and one on which she continues to wire the electronic and acoustic together in pursuit of inventive song-centric generation. Richard Dawson is a fan, his compadre Rhodri Davies contributes and Sam Grant of Pigs x7 is RPG’s producer, so you can guess that Me Lost Me’s latest steers well clear of convention. That doesn’t mean that Dent has made an album that’s wilfully obscure, melody, harmony, rhythms and rhymes remain central to her songcraft, but ‘RPG’ is never obvious. Like the video games that were one of Dent’s particular inspirations here, around the corner there’s always something fantastical.
Real World sets the context for subject and sound palette. Built on an electronic gamelan count down and scripted with a series of poignant samples, it pokes at the question of real and imagined. “What other things have you seen in real life and thought that’s not real that’s a video game?” gets asked early on as an earthy trip hop beat and swirling chants add to the suspense. Straight away Me Lost Me has dropped you in the middle of a quandary, are we looking to the past or searching for today, is this the sound of then or now? It’s engrossing and you just want more.
‘RPG’ unravels these juxtapositions with a refined balance and quiet humour that adds to its persuasive power. Put it this way Me Lost Me approach serious things differently to These New Puritans. So Heat! sets its lyrical chatter about picnics, parks and sunny days within some shadowy shape shifting vocal melodies that echo early music and even snippets of nu-metal. There’s birdsong plus electric shocks, an intense Tuneyards percussive skip and sombre toned clarinets all subtly coating the “warm breeze on your skin” with darker meaning. By the end of this incisive song even the innocent summery Sunday phrase “there’s enough food for everyone-share it out” chills.
Until Morning should carry a similar warning of a double edge. Set up like a classic dark trad ballad (opening line “X marks the spot where I died”) it unfolds Lankum-esque with a synth fringed drone, yearning flute from the Peak District’s own Sam Partridge and Dent’s expressive vocal, aching every line. Written about her gaming hours playing Zelda it’s a significant nu-folk statement, telling a story from a virtual, unreal world that’s cautionary, enlightening and just like all those ancient tales of love and death. But maybe Dent leaves a more contemporary message here as she sings a closing “hundreds of hours doing more than I ever dare/climbing a mountain that’s just not there” with a twinge of guilt and disappointment.
Undoubtedly the other dimension that contributes to the push forward that ‘RPG’ makes is the input from regular collaborators Faye MacCalman on clarinet and John Pope on double bass. These two established jazzers seem as essential to the Me Lost Me dynamic as Dent’s voice, synths and piano. Within the stark reality of Eye Witness the pumping clarinet and riffing bass help paint a more graphic, human picture amongst the electronic abstraction. Then there’s the gently unconventional Collide, co- written by Dent and MacCallum, that bounces with a Canterbury prog quirkiness as the minimal reed lines and voice play make up an avant conversation. But perhaps the natural fluency of In Gardens best highlights the synergy between the trio, where a spontaneous free jazz flow allows this fluttering pastoral succulence to find “a new climate entirely”. Jack Cooper’s Modern Nature revolves around the same mindset that Me Lost Me are evolving here – now that would be some double bill.
Throughout all of this invention Jayne Dent’s voice remains pivotal. Clear and shining, its strengths rooted in the sessions and sing-arounds that were part of her upbringing but with its own twist of personality. She names Maddy Prior and Anne Briggs as touchstones and you can hear it in her delivery but maybe there are more contemporary echoes of Jackie Oates or Kate Stables/This is the Kit. Still, listening to her swooping vocal curls on the ominous Festive Day, there’s no question of straight derivatives on show. Even the vibrant acapella tracks, the traditional Mirie It Is While Summer I Last and Dent’s in-the-round duet with Ditte Elly The Oldest Tree Hold The Earth, resound with Me Lost Me spirit.
‘RPG’ is clearly a record intent on making connections rather than drawing lines. The songs in themselves, however knotty and complex, rarely feel fragmented for the sake of it. Take The God Of Stuck Time, as it swells from a shivering drone to a network of counter rhythms and electronic injections, or the album’s bubbling closer Science and Art that oozes hope through its warming beats, expectant pauses and tidal melody. This is an album with an uncanny flow that looks backwards, forwards and sideways at the everyday and brilliantly reassures. We may be “online dreamers” or “taking chisel to stone” but we all share something and that’s what Me Lost Me are seeking out.
Get your copy of ‘RPG’ by Me Lost Me from your local record shop or direct from Upset The Rhythm HERE