Gravenhurst : Black Holes in Sand

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EPs, as far as I know, are meant to be short. At their shortest, they consist of two or three songs and keep around the ten-minute mark. At their longest, they end after twenty minutes and have a couple extra b-sides padded on. But, apparently, nobody told Nick Talbot, better known as British melancholy folkster Gravenhurst. Black Holes in the Sand, his six-song follow-up EP to the recent Flashlight Seasons album, is almost as long as that album, clocking at an astounding thirty-one minutes. But that’s no complaint, mind you. If anything, it’s a generous gift, disguised as an economically priced and packaged single.

The title track of Black Holes, alone, is seven and a half minutes, stretching out into spacious and heady territory in two different sections that could have easily been a three-minute pop song followed by a four-minute instrumental. It’s clear that Talbot is getting more ambitious with his work and from the sound of this EP, he’s starting to embrace more rock-oriented styles as well. And it’s not just the spacey sounds of the title track. Take also, for instance, the reverb-heavy distorted guitar at the end of “Still Water.” Though Talbot is no stranger to writing pop songs (nor is he really “folk” music), the strange effects on this mini-album do come as a bit of a surprise.

Oddly, the least rock-sounding song on this record is a cover of Husker Du’s “Diane,” that sounds as far from the original as could be expected. Instead, Talbot’s gentle acoustic guitar plucking and soft tenor turn it into a stark, graceful ballad. The real treat among all these songs, however, is “Flowers in Her Hair,” which is as dark and gothic as American folk music gets, only British. And what’s more, its sinister leanings keep it from sounding as sleepy as some of Gravenhurst’s other songs. Nonetheless, it’s real purty.

Whether or not Black Holes in Sand is just here to tide us over until the next Gravenhurst album comes out, it’s a substantial enough release to warrant my recommendation for you to seek it out. Some of these songs might even trump those on Flashlight Seasons, and that’s not an easy task to accomplish.

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