‘Ropes’ is a gorgeous record that is immaculately performed and recorded, but which still retains an enticing air of melancholic mystery'
There’s a sense of retreating into safety about Duotone. Not only are
the band named after an old printing technique, but their promotional
material is steeped in sepia Edwardiana, and despite copious use of loop
pedals their music nods towards well-behaved salon folk. Add a few
lyrics about the hermetic safety of an oldfashioned middle class
childhood, all bedtime
stories and warm nurseries, and you’d be forgiven for thinking that Duotone are a soppy panacea for delicate wallflowers who think the world is moving too fast and who wish they were back at prep school.
But you’d be wrong. Comforting and hushed the music might be, all deep in the womb of Barney Morse-Brown’s impeccable cello, but this is far more than insipid ambience. Not only are there moments of chilling eeriness throughout the album, but the music is restlessly inventive. When it might have been easy for Duotone to stick with some whispered melodies and a few pretty James Garrett guitar parts, they slip some eclectic elements into the album: ‘Walking To The Shore’ starts with a stately promenade that owes something to British minimalism, before introducing a spikily elegant vocal line that reminds us of The High Llamas. Later, ‘Alphabet’ leaps halfway through from bucolic lullaby to something that isn’t far from a Knight Rider chase theme. ‘Broken Earth’ is a high point, a Hansel & Gretel referencing chunk of goth folk that reminds us of an urbane take on 60s experimental folk, a cleanshaven Comus if you will. There are a couple of mis-steps on ‘Ropes’, from the fluffy Disney refrain of ‘Till It’s Over’ to the directionless doodle of ‘Powder House’, wordless female vocals flitting politely about like ‘The Great Gig In The Sky’ repackaged for Habitat, but these are minor blemishes. ‘Ropes’ is a gorgeous record that is immaculately performed and recorded, but which still retains an enticing air of melancholic mystery: for all their abilities, this is the important element most Sunday supplement boutique folk acts seem to be missing.