Album Review: Siobhan Wilson – The Departure

Album artwork for The Departure by Siobhan Wilson

Siobhan Wilson invites us to join her on an expedition through concepts of identity and independence on mesmerising new album The Departure.

Siobhan Wilson is celebrating independence in many ways. Not only did she successfully crowdfund her new album The Departure (out on 10 May via Suffering Fools Records), but she is also releasing it on her own new record label. Taking matters into her own hands is a key element of the new album, both lyrically and sonically, so it is appropriate that she named her label Suffering Fools Records. She has explained that “Don’t ever suffer fools means don’t change anything you were doing that was working for you – your life is for exploring and don’t let anybody choose for you if you can possibly avoid it”. On The Departure, Wilson has taken these words to heart and it’s certainly working for her.

Listening to Siobhan Wilson is a unique experience. I have never watched a performer so quiet – even with a microphone – that you can hear a pin drop. Then, in the next moment, this enchantingly beautiful, but also stunningly powerful, voice soars out and, for completely different reasons, silences the crowd. It is an intriguing contrast – juxtaposing fragility and ferocity. This divergence continues on The Departure, but this time Wilson shows us all the shades of grey in between – a complete portrait of an artist laid bare. My first thought when listening to this album was that Wilson has poured all of herself into it with complete abandon and without fear. The result is simply stunning.

The album begins with the fade in of powerful opening track ‘The Departure’. The grinding guitar accompaniment has more than a hint of Godspeed You! Black Emperor and is a sign of the more experimental elements of this album. While ‘Northern Clouds’ reflects Wilson’s more folk-influenced storytelling and is reminiscent of Kate Rusby while continuing the underlying message of strength – “What’s fragile’s not broken”. She further explores aspects of her own identity through two French covers – ‘Ne Dis Rien’ by Gainsbourg and ‘Dis Quand Reviendras – Tu?’ – that reflect her bond to French culture.

Wilson has stated that latest single ‘April’ was written for her teenage self and it’s a song that I wish I’d been able to listen to during my teens and even during recent years when I’ve had to make certain life choices. It features an emotive arrangement of delicate finger-picking and quivering strings with Wilson’s vocal full of longing. The lyrics, however, are wonderfully empowering and bring a lump to my throat as I recall them – “Be a mother if you want, find another if you want”. With this song, Wilson is handing autonomy to us and it’s breathtaking.

First single ‘Marry You’ is a spikier affair with a heavier, guitar-driven sound. It continues – through the clever context of a marriage proposal – the idea of rejecting the restrictions we impose on ourselves and refusing to wait for someone else to decide anything for us – “If indecision is your decision, I do not need your permission”. ‘All Dressed Up Tonight (Better Than I Ever Did With You)’ reflects on calculating self-worth in relation to how others see us – “I put the kitten heels on that you loved the last time”. Despite being an older live favourite, with the guitar noodling and changes in the pace of Wilson’s vocal, it has an almost spontaneous, urgent sound. As her voice echoes and surrounds you it sounds like she’s singing the words on the spot as they come to her, such is her passion.

‘Unconquerable’ – co-written and performed with Honeyblood and just one example of collaboration on this album – develops this theme by moving beyond the expectations we place on ourselves to the expectations placed upon women and how to break free of these. A throbbing riff accompanies the biting call and response vocals – “You’re meant to be modest and humble, they call you beauty” – and the track seems to end too soon, which is another demonstration of Wilson’s ultimate control.

The title of this album says it all. Wilson takes us on a journey to a better place – where we are safe to explore our identity without fear. This is also a departure for Wilson – a deeper exploration of her own songwriting and her sound. “I burst out into green” she sings on the piercing ‘Little Hawk’, “I burst out cos I’m wilder and richer than you had foreseen”.

And in another sense, it’s not a departure at all. The Departure is another exquisite album from an exceptional artist. Siobhan Wilson has burst out. She has arrived.

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