Built on sweeping yet carefully-refined harmonies and the most delicate of recording approaches, Bleaching Bones – the debut album from Dublin and Belfast four-piece Landless – is a million miles from the modern-day zeitgeist. Regardless, the rootsy harmonies shine, made special by a sense of place and unique, textured feel.
The concept of an album without instruments is, transparently, not a new one, but it is a sparse rarity in the context of modern-day music. Landless – a harmony-led, all-female vocal quartet – do very little by the book, having beautifully passed from a trad niche to the stage.
“We don’t write anything down, when it comes to working on songs,” Ruth Clinton tells us of the approach to ‘Bleaching Bones’, released on Humble Serpent Records earlier this month. “We all sang mainly in traditional singing circles before this, unaccompanied, and the band and the album came out of that.”
“We recorded partly in St Luke’s Church in Howth, where I’m in my element, as I grew up around there. It has incredible acoustics. We also went down to a tunnel under Belfast, where Maedh lives, that’s not normally open to the public. That was a great experience, as it echoes back so slowly, and affects how you have to sing. We picked the places we recorded for the acoustics, and there’s a lot of natural reverb and atmosphere on the album.”
Those recordings were made by John Murphy (Gorilla Sounds), who was also involved in the production of Lankum’s widely acclaimed, trad-inspired 2017 album ‘Between The Earth and the Sky’. Before the recent drive, Landless were a casual endeavour for much of their life, and have developed naturally, through things like being invited to perform in churches in France, or on a boat in the middle of the sea at Passage West.
“The locations give a really gentle differentiation between the sounds. When it comes to recording. You need that in an album that’s mostly vocals,” Clinton explains. “It’s great when you have that for gigs, as well. We’d always pick a location with great acoustics, if we have the choice.”
Landless’ songs are largely drawn from the trad tradition, subtly adjusted to incorporate harmonies and incredibly subtle, playfully-interacting arrangements. “We do try to feel trad songs from a woman’s perspective,” Clinton tells us. “Trad hasn’t always been kind to women. We’ll look at anything in English. We work out our melody and harmony by just sitting in a room. We then record it all live.”
“The arrangements probably have small changes as play the songs more times, ones that evolve naturally, but we’re very limited in that, as all the parts have to work together, otherwise we’ll quickly lose the harmonies. We do have one song that has organs on the album, and we have done shows with other instruments backing us. But most of our music can be performed in circles, back where we started out. Performing them live on a stage is very intimidating altogether, but we’ve found a really supportive atmosphere. Success is just having this out there.”
With hard-won purity, heritage and utterly outstanding voices, Landless are unlikely to storm the charts. Their charming and tender approach to melody is certain to win over a few souls.
Bleaching Bones, Landless’ sparse and reimagining of trad staples, is out now.
This article is part of my weekly music column for the Dublin Gazette, reproduced here with permission. Note: this column is published in the Dublin Gazette several days ahead of on this website. The Gazette is a freesheet paper available across Dublin, published on a Thursday. Pick up copies at these locations.
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