Twelfth Day have updated folk for 2019. Traditional Celtic elements are intermingled with unconventional musical techniques, exploration of pertinent issues and a completely unique sound. Nothing has been left behind on the two-piece’s latest release: vocals, instrumentation and lyrics could all stand alone in their own right. This is what defines the success of the album: no aspect outperforms or underperforms compared to the others.
The beautiful, encompassing sound could partly be attributed to the pair’s classical training. This proficiency allows the duo to include solely instrumental tracks, leaving their playing to speak for itself. One of the most notable of these is ‘Oma’s’. The piece starts with a comforting fuzz akin to record static and a single sustained violin note, and slowly builds up with layers of instruments and an increased volume, enveloping the listener and becoming brighter and faster paced as the track continues. When it comes to an end, a warm, uplifting feeling is left behind. Even for a lyrical enthusiast, the lack of vocals isn’t likely to even be felt.
The duo’s musicality has also allowed them to subvert genres and expectations. Harp is used unconventionally to provide a rhythmic, percussive accompaniment, and the musical texture of the album is varied with the addition of drums and double bass – a first for Twelfth Day. On some tracks, such as ‘Fact of Life’, the layering of instruments and vocals creates an almost dissonant effect. This is actually welcomed, preventing the high-pitch, soft voices from becoming overly saccharine or cliché, instead adding depth and edge.
Additionally, at times, the vocals take on a slightly theatrical feel, possibly reflecting the Shakespearean connotations of the pair’s name. A dramatic, performative tone, reminiscent of Kate Bush, permeates ‘Superwoman’, alongside story-like lyrics that explore power imbalances related to disabilities, gender and age. Similarly, ‘In The Filling Station’ and ‘In The Bar’ take on the feel of spoken-word poetry, with the two voices melding together into one to deliver punchy lines that provide an insight into the unsettling experiences faced by women. Some tracks also feature background noise, which helps to set the scene and increase a sense of realism.
Topical themes such as these are characteristic of the album as a whole. Gender issues are further explored on ‘Deep Dark Beast’, which seems to attempt to combat a number of gendered stereotypes that may have been applied to the two ‘Celtic angels’. Opening track and single ‘Keep Me’ explores a slightly different, though no less relevant, theme: climate change. Here, the pair take on the role of Mother Nature, who implores ‘I have so much to give you, so stop trying to defeat me if you want to keep me’.
Twelfth Day’s use of their musical talents and platform to raise awareness of some of the most important issues faced today ultimately solidifies the album’s importance, and this duo are undoubtedly deserving of a place in the spotlight.