James Yorkston and the Athletes : Just Beyond the River

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It’s taken a while to get to this one, though I can’t give any logical reason as to why it’s been so much more of a challenge to write about James Yorkston’s Just Beyond the River than any other album released this year. It’s not that I haven’t been listening to it. I’ve actually become quite taken by the Scots’ newest. It’s just that there’s no easy way to put into words how beautiful and awe-inspiring River is. And thus, by admitting the difficulty, I face the accusation of being a failure.

I’ve spun the disc over and over, losing myself in the breathtaking melodies. Yorkston’s voice is soothing and calm, like a British version of Iron & Wine’s Sam Beam, floating over the graceful music without overshadowing it. Half the time, I don’t even notice what he’s singing, but it doesn’t matter. He could be reciting NASDAQ fourth-quarter earnings and it would still sound beautiful. Yet once I hear Yorkston’s gentle tones, I find myself lost in the music and unable to transfer the signal from my brain to my homerow-positioned fingers. Drat.

So I let it play again, from beginning to end. The ascending accordion melodies in “Heron” make way for a truly dramatic and dynamic record, albeit one that masquerades as late-night folk-rock listening. I’m hooked and soon my foot is tapping to the boisterous, catchy single “Shipwreckers.” The fingerpicking in “Surf Song” is nothing short of brilliant. The banjo in “Hermitage,” equally satisfying. And the pattern continues, each song stealing my attention before I can get a word in edgewise. Soon enough, the album’s come to an end and I find myself staring at an empty screen.

But I won’t let it happen again. I won’t be sucked in by the gentle riffs of “Hotel” or the brief, yet catchy folk of “This Time Tomorrow.” I’ll evade the subtle charms of the album, like the slight touches of accordion and violin and nearly percussive tone of Yorkston’s strumming. When I find myself drawn in by the lush accompaniment of “Banjo #1,” I’ll pull myself out of the sonic whirlwind and commit my experience to Word. And by the time the hoedown of “The Snow It Melts The Soonest” has come to an end, I will have succeeded. I will be done with my review.

But it’s probably a losing battle. The power of James Yorkston’s songwriting is just too fierce to battle. And The Athletes’ instrumentation just make the task that much more formidable. So I accept defeat, pleasantly succumbing to the lovely sounds being emitted by my stereo speakers and being lured in by Just Beyond the River‘s siren song.

Similar albums:
Adem – Homesongs
Jim Guthrie – Now, More Than Ever
M. Ward – The End of Amnesia

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