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Thanks to the phenomenal success of banjo-bangers Mumford & Sons, it seems difficult to make any reference to an indie-folk record without having the mind trip into a comparison to those London folkies. And that’s why it’s so difficult to ultimately assess the sound coming from Cattle & Cane’s debut album, Home.
At its heart there’s nothing really wrong with the record. But, at the same time, it really struggles to make itself stand out amid the landfill of folk bands currently touring the nation. The record is vibrant, it’s optimistic, it’s occasionally dark… yet it’s also nothing new. The only benefit is that Mumford & Sons have decided they don’t want their folk music to be mocked anymore, so have switched to letting their rock music be mocked instead. This gives the Thornaby siblings (and Tom Chapman) their chance to step up.
The Go-Betweens inspired band certainly fit most clichés associated with poppy folk bands. There’s the soaring orchestral movements roughly two thirds through ‘In Your Arms’ and ‘Belle’ (to name just two) to really distil any sort of anthemic attachment to the group. Siblings Joseph and Helen Hammill exchange vocals between verses in ‘Skies’ and ‘Dancing’ to consolidate some form of loving affection within the album. And there’s also the slightly mellower moments in ‘We Are Children’ and ‘Then You Came Along’ to calm you down if the strings and overall sweetness of the album becomes too much.
But this is arguably a little unfair. After all, the execution of the album cannot be faulted. The songs all sound smoothly produced, so everything is easy on the ears. It’s quite difficult to not enjoy this album, but at the same time it’d be highly irregular to love it.
However, credit should be given where credit is due: there are songs on this album that particularly stand out. ‘Pull down the Moon’ perfectly executes the treacherous task of making a folk-pop love song not sound cheesy and unbearable. It’s undeniably twee, but almost seems self-aware of this. This, though, is juxtaposed with the slightly darker ‘The Poacher’ – the opening guitar licks in this number sound incredibly reminiscent of music from the Deep South, whereas much of Home really fails to nail down any true inspirations. Joseph Hammill also appears to express a rare, moody emotion in this standout vocal performance, somewhat akin to Yorkshire quartet The Dunwells.
Before the album repeats itself, ‘Skies’ and ‘Red’ are decent songs. It’s just a shame that the general premise in these uplifting tunes becomes too samey halfway through the record. Home does at least end on a high note with a surprisingly stripped-back live version of ‘Dancing’; this tweaked iteration gives the song some character and definitely highlights the Hammills’ talents on the live stage.
As there are currently no folk-pop titans ruling the roost, Cattle & Cane will do for the time being. There’s nothing wrong with their music but ultimately it’s been done. Give them a few years to adapt and become unique and they’ll be bigger but, for now, Cattle & Cane will remain in the shadow of their ancestors. 6/10