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Luck (Little Secret Records)

The music industry loves a summer record, those bright and breezy bits of fun that replicate heat on the skin, something cold and alcoholic in the hand, and not much more on the brain than how to get one or both again with someone of a similar disposition, or at least similar availability.

Yes, this is despite the fact, at least in the southern hemisphere, that summer contains Christmas and NYE, two of the most stressful times for people suffering from loneliness, unhappiness, family traumas and loss. Anyway, summer’s for outdoor songs and chasing the fun, and that’s official.

The Yearling’s Luck ain’t one of them.

This is a winter record. An indoor record. While it isn’t grim and grey, nor ladened with some unquenchable grief – really, what kind of winter are you having? You do need to get out some more – it is a close the door to the chill sneaking in the cracks, tell me a story while we’re together, caught under a low sky, low light, low movement record.

Robyn Chalklen and Chris Parkinson sing of lifelong friendships torn by death (Gone Are The Days) and a relationship that might only survive by separation (It Won’t Be Long). They explore indifference that may only be changed by violence (Only) and lives where no matter how much attention is paid, nothing will change (Luck). These are stories told with understanding, their not-yet-weathered voices having just enough weariness.

Not everything has a hue of sadness mind you. There is tender, hopeful love (Downtown), alongside remembered, wistful love (Santa Monica) and warm traces of joy can be felt under an autumnal absence that remains unexplained (Old Friend). Even death can come with a sense of acceptance that is almost like peace (Angel’s Feet). These stories are told with intimacy, their lightly tethered voices beckoning you in.

Interestingly though, as closed-in-winter as it is, sonically Luck is the most expansive, least claustrophobic album the pair have made. It still indoors, but it’s a little more crowded.

For six records up until this, Chalklen and Parkinson had been all The Yearlings: a couple of acoustic guitars, a couple of voices, a singular vision. But with producer/guitarist Lucie Thorne they’ve brought in two of her regular collaborators, drummer Hamish Stuart and bass player James Haselwood, and refashioned their world. To the spectral folk and lonely country of yore is now added – incrementally – a toughening agent of blues and south-western sounds.

At first, in Downtown, this appears as languid electric guitar and brushed drums bringing the lingering last rays of summer beneath the gentle voices presaging the season’s change. By the title track, three songs on, the bass is underpinning and holding subtly, and the finger picking in Angel’s Feet is a back-and-forth between electric and acoustic. So far, so mild an adjustment. And then comes the enigmatic Donnie Darko.

Now, while the vocals push out a little more with Chalklen revealing a low tidal wash of anxiety, the full band comes to the fore. The guitar dangles desert blues, rising darkly in its solos, the drums smack the side of the car for direction, and the bass plays the reinforcing role, solidifying matters. Much the same happens, albeit at a less stern level, with Waiting On The Wind, where the band has relocated indoors and eased back while Parkinson turns almost to a drawl, the song a beer chaser to Donnie Darko’s dark shot.

If It Won’t Be Long lightens things even more, the electric guitar a coastal breeze washing over everybody, Only closes the album by pulling everything inside again, Stuart’s busy drums a counterpoint to Chalklen’s alone-at-the-window singing that hovers between engagement and cool observation.

We may have started the album with the merest nip in the air, but we finish it with a definite chill. Winter is here, we’re staying in.


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