After exploring the roaring, primal sounds of music at the beginning of music with their first single fo 2022 I Was Born On An Island, Bishopskin are back with something decidedly more mellow and laid-back with this Lean Closer, introduced by a snippet of something closely resembling a Baroque clavichord and developing into a track that is, in keeping with its lyrics, almost more canticle than ballad. Morning Has Broken feels like an obvious parallel for this track at first listen, possibly also because of its themes, except that in a sense it is truly its opposite: a hymn which gained fortune as a folk-rock song, whereas Lean Closer is a folk-rock song that has all the trappings of a hymn.
It is, also, a little gem of compositional finesse. Below the surface of this slow but intense not-quite-a-ballad, easy on the ear and easier to hum along, there is a multitude of different some elements merging, working together, drifting apart, arranged in harmony (and, at one point, in deliberate disharmony) with each other with a precision that is almost clockwork. A marker of ingenious songwriting is often in the ability to take something greatly complex and make it sound simple, and this track is an excellent example of precisely that. Take the clockwork mechanism apart, however, and its many components are revealed in all the complexities of their interaction: from the classic ballad chords delivered on the acoustic guitar to the airy harmonies of the backing vocals, to the precise, unobtrusive but ever-present little phrasings of the sax, to the bridged delivered by strings which could have come out of a traditional Irish folk song, to a drum section which borrows from jazz and breathes a lively rhythm into the lullaby-like swing of the track. Tying it all together are soulful vocals which bring to life intensely emotional lyrics; this is a song worth listening to in a quiet room for its words, which come across both deeply personal and immediately relatable. It is hard not to be moved when the instrumental bridge devolves into disharmonic chaos, then the song almost audibly catches its breath before letting the vocals re-emerge with renewed passion. Precise as clockwork it might be, but Lean Closer is also a song that’s not scared of getting in touch with some visceral, delicate feelings.
The success of its compositional finesse is also aided by the fact that Bishopskin were joined in the studio by two exceptional guest musicians. Seth Evans (Black Midi, HMLTD) brings an effortless ease to his piano parts which probably reflects the fact that he performed them on an almost-improvised take; multi-instrumentalist Alex White (Fat White Family) wove some black magic into the track by adding some additional sax flourishes to the original line delivered by the band’s own saxophonist Jed Holloway, a range of clever but unobtrusive atmospheric sounds – adding noticeable depth to the overall texture of the track – and his trademark flute to the already broad sound landscape. I cannot wait to see what he brings to the other songs he is also working on with the band; they are a perfect fit for each other.
Much as Bishopskin’s first two singles sound on the surface level completely different from each other, they have one essential thing in common: the boldness with which they confront and convey such a raw depth of feeling. It is music meant to create a deep resonance with the feelings it channels and to evoke equally intense ones in anyone who listens. That is an ambitious goal to aim for, and one that requires both an inspired skill in performance and a challenging level of honesty in the emotion poured into the performance itself. Achieving it live is remarkable; achieving it with the same incisiveness in the studio, over such a varied range of sound, is a very rare feat and confirmation, to me, of the fact that this band is truly doing something worth experiencing.
If you’re in London see them at Paper Dress Vintage tomorrow (Friday 25th March) – tickets here