Siobhan Wilson provides the heavenly soundtrack to heartbreak and healing with her second album ‘There Are No Saints’.
After returning to Scotland from Paris five years ago, Siobhan Wilson moved from Elgin to Glasgow and used her background in classical music and French jazz to stunning effect. Her second album ‘There Are No Saints’ (out now, via Song, By Toad) has been gestating for years but was recorded swiftly with the help of Chris McCrory, of Glasgow indie band Catholic Action.
When I first heard Siobhan Wilson, supporting Justin Currie a few years ago, I was struck by two things – her angelic, soaring and swooping, vocals and her ability to tell a captivating story through her lyrics. The purchase of her ‘Glorified Demons’ and ‘Say It’s True’ EPs quickly followed, but it is on this second full-length that Wilson begins to show the full range of her exceptional artistry.
‘There Are No Saints’ begins with the short but sweet title track, introducing Wilson’s voice as the main instrument when a choir of her ethereal vocals soar over a simple piano melody. It sets out the pattern of lighter moments and stormier times present throughout the album – nothing is simply good or bad in Wilson’s world, but all of it is portrayed with breathtaking beauty.
‘Whatever Helps’ is a complete contrast to the album opener – with a heavy, fuzzy guitar riff and breathy vocals – perfectly showing off Wilson’s rockier influences and her darker side. There are no crashing cymbals or dominant drum beat – Wilson instead uses a throbbing heartbeat as she addresses depression and advises to “try to move on”.
The questioning prayer of ‘Dear God’ provides the intimacy that is familiar from Wilson’s previous releases. You can hear her fingers delicately moving across the strings as she debates spirituality with a wonderfully sharp tongue, singing “You were right to say my prince charming would come, but you did fail to mention that he would stop loving me”.
‘Paris Est Blanche’ highlights how easily that tongue turns to French – and also on her sparkling, magical cover of ‘J’attendrai’ – and again takes centre stage in front of the piano and rhythm box beat. Written by her ex-boyfriend, this track reflects on memories of living in Paris with someone who she is no longer with. As her emotions are laid bare, there is a beguiling mix of vulnerability and strength in the process.
‘Disaster and Grace’ features quivering strings with the lightest touch – Wilson’s touch, in fact, as she is playing the cello on this track. There is a delicacy, both lyrically and in the arrangement, which creates the impression that if you listen too closely the song may break into a thousand pieces before the strings have a chance to flourish. Wilson paints detailed pictures with her words and music – it’s easy to imagine each one as a soundtrack to a scene in a lavish production.
‘Incarnation’ features a fuzzing distorted guitar that provides an earthy anchor to her soaring operatic voice. This track reminds me of Jose Gonzalez/Junip as she drops down her vocal range with a spikier tone in her voice and in her lyrics – “don’t want to be a blackbird, sitting alone on top of your gravestone”. It’s a song that buzzes through my brain and embeds itself there long after each listen.
‘Make You Mine’ is a gentle waltz, with a moody guitar solo thrown in, where Wilson invites her object of desire to dance with her so she can make him hers. It’s another example of how she manages to blend pop, folk, rock and her classical background to powerful effect and, in the process, avoids jumping on any current bandwagon. I get the impression that the songs pour out of her. They wander along their own path – taking unexpected turns away from what you assume will be their structure, as though they have a life of their own.
‘Dark Matter’ has a gentle fizz and throb before you fall down the rabbit hole in the middle of the warped carousel that is ‘Dystopian Bach’. It’s the droning soundtrack to a particularly trippy dream with the piano melody and Wilson’s faint, echoing vocals arriving over half way through the track. It’s a soundscape that demonstrates her classical training used to creative effect and, as a fan of Godspeed You! Black Emperor and other experimental artists, it’s an aspect of her songwriting that I hope she continues to explore.
‘It Must Have Been The Moon’, with lyrics penned by Stuart Nisbet, is a gentle and fitting end to this sublime album.
For a record that deals with such weighty issues as spirituality, heartbreak and depression, Wilson’s execution is as light as a feather and the result is incredibly uplifting. Play this album through your headphones and let it carry you stress-free through crowds of people in the warmth of her voice. Let her open your eyes to the beauty of the ebb and flow of people in a crowded train station or on a busy street.
At the beginning of this review, I said that this album begins to show the full range of Siobhan Wilson’s exceptional artistry. That’s not to say that I feel she could have done better – just that there is so much more to come from her. But for now, envelop yourself in an album that is simply divine.