Album Reviews

Claire O’Brien – The Hollow



Folk music is an oral tradition: a passing down from generation to generation of not just songs, but tales and memories also. But does this definition hold up when discussing more modern incarnations of folk sounds, especially those of so-called “freak folk” or artists tagged with the New Weird label? At their best, these soft, subtly-psychedelic sounds evoke a different kind of memory, a collective natural memory passed down through the trees, the soil, and the wind. Such thoughts come to mind while listening to Claire O’Brien’s The Hollow, the latest gem from Glasgow-via-Kilkenny label, Moot Tapes. 

The majority of the Moot Tapes back-catalogue is electronic in nature, so O’Brien’s voice-and-piano stylings may seem like an odd fit. Additional production by Neil Quigley helps bridge this gap between more traditional songwriting and electronic experimentation. Opener ‘We Will Be One’ sets this tone nicely: a juxtaposition of the natural sounds of birdsong and the highly processed percussive pluck underpinning the track. Both of these elements are a frame onto which O’Brien’s voice and piano can project an intimate portrayal of building a life with a partner: “needing no one else”. On their own, O’Brien’s vocals and piano would make for an effective collection of music, but the additional instrumentation and production elevates it to being something deeper and more ethereal, like Lisa Hannigan collaborating with Hollinndagain-era Animal Collective. This is demonstrated most clearly as O’Brien’s spliced up vocals shuffle in the background at the beginning of ‘Wet’, adding to the sense of otherworldliness throughout. This fades out early on leaving O’Brien alone with a mournful piano motif, appropriate for a song referencing exposure to the elements.

Closer ‘Holes’ is arguably the strongest song on the album: a seven minute mini-epic which feels as if it was born of the same grove frequented by the likes of Natalie Rose LeBrecht or Devendra Banhart. The ideas of exposure become intertwined with those of memory: “once I held your face inside/now there’s only space inside” while the song builds in intensity as vibraphone, plucked strings, and choral samples weave in and out, leading to a stirring climax. At only three songs, The Hollow does not linger for long, but given the strength of the material it won’t be forgotten quickly. It is a precious addition to the Moot catalogue, and an ideal soundtrack for those wishing to bring the vibes of nature into their living room to share with their loved ones, if only for just a brief while. Will Abbott