Following a break during the Summer after a triumphant last live show in late May, Bishopskin have returned with a bang, delivering a new single that both refines and redefines their sound. The alternative folk outfit (as much as this description may fit a band that is refreshingly defiant of any sort of genre categorisation – more on this later) have broadened their sound to include even more layers, moving away in a sense from their acoustic beginnings while still managing to preserve the heart and immediacy that made their early, stripped-down output so memorable. The result is a track that masters a remarkable degree of complexity while still going straight to the point, plucking on exactly the right strings to evoke a feeling that is visceral and deeply emotional.
Mixed by Bishopskin’s own James Donovan, Ave Maria will not be a complete surprise to those lucky enough to have attended the band’s live shows, where this track has – and for very good reasons – firmly established itself as a fan favourite pretty much ever since it was first revealed. There is, however, something very pleasing in encountering it in this new form, and to find a renewed attention placed on taking its (inherently strong) core structure and amplifying it through the addition of more musical thread, turning it into a chorus of different voices. It is a song inspired by a landscape, that of the English moors which are such a perfect backdrop for the very concept of folk music, and so it is fitting that the song is a landscape itself, constructed of many features, with perfectly integrated guest appearances by the disquieting thrill of the violin of Hana Miyagi and the full-bodied harmonica of Robert McCann. The biggest credit perhaps to the composition here is that in spite of this huge plurality of elements the song doesn’t feel overcrowded: the sound is everywhere light and clean, its many voices distinct. It can feel, in places, somewhat like listening to birdsong.
It is worth returning to the moors and to folk music, in that both are a perfect framing for another type of feeling Bishopskin have always been able to evoke with their music, and which is not lost in this newfound complexity: a much more primal, visceral one, a sense of music coming straight from the earth (or straight from the gut), tapping into an instinctual level of emotion which is, ultimately, the purest folk element in their songwriting. That was clearly heard in their earliest tracks (first to come to mind is, inevitably, I Was Born On An Island), and it still rings loud and clear here, aided especially by the vocals, with Tiger Nicholson’s unmistakable bass blending seamlessly with the sharp backing vocals provided by Tabitha Avanzato (who also contributed, together with Nicholson and Donovan, in writing the song). There is an echo of those early acoustic performances, too, in the guitars, which have preserved their ability to sound crisp and smooth without the need for any additional gimmick.
Overall, Ave Maria feels almost more like an experience than just a song. It is hugely ambitious in its intention to paint a whole scene, and it manages to lead its listener by the hand straight into the heart of that scene. It is an immersive, beautiful piece of music that sheds any remaining chain tying it to genre and form and fully experiments with imagery and sound – once more affirming Bishopskin as one of the more disruptive and interesting voices in new grassroots music.
Check it out, here
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