Barren Harvest’s gorgeous dark neo-folk inflected music is deliciously beautiful. The affecting vocal of Jessica Way (Worm Ouroboros) complements Atriarch’s Lenny Smith’s post-punk influenced approach and the two make wonderful, simple constructions of sound breathe with the mournful soul of passing seasons. Subtle Cruelties is a record that drifts and sways in the breeze and the soft laments found within are lifted with gentle synth lines and minimal guitar picks along with the occasional injection of natural sounds and birdsong.
“The Bleeding” drifts with a despondent energy with Way and Smith’s vocal lines standing apart but together in their journey toward finality. Droning synths lie hidden in the background, while the two voices take precedence over the soft instrumentation, allowing the opening song to make its mark with heightened melancholy and ghostly progressions. It’s a haunting beginning and a nuance that follows through the record and gives it a cohesive message.
The darkened ambience of Subtle Cruelties falls through the night of “Memoriam II” which moves with a delicate touch giving Jessica Way’s voice the space it so richly deserves to curl into the deepest recesses of memory to dredge up the hardest, most hurtful moments of life. The song moves on unsettling, rumbling drones and high keys, which gives it an aura of unease and is part of a running theme on the record. Short spoken word pieces are interspersed throughout Subtle Cruelties and Barren Harvest have taken from Alfred Tennyson’s poem In Memoriam A.H.H a work written after the sudden death of a close friend and one which speaks of finding hope after suffering great loss, in order to bind their own thoughts on such a devastating subject together (you can read it in full here). It works incredibly well as a clear passage through which Barren Harvest are moving and the softness of the folk-infused music certainly creates an atmosphere of subtle guidance.
“Claw and Feather” lies in gorgeous piano and string progressions which curl around Smith’s mournful baritone, giving the song a funereal quality and feeling of deep sadness. This leads gently into “Memoriam VI” and it’s constant, harrowing string/synth arrangement which permeates Smith’s voice and haunting whispered accompaniment. It’s the final part of the Memoriam series, and this time it’s the words of Way and Smith that connect to the feelings of loss that permeate the record in such strong tones, before “Reveal” closes Subtle Cruelties on breathless whispers and gorgeous lilts of sadness. There’s a deep current of sorrow that runs through the record and it ebbs and flows via beautiful inflections of guitar and voice, constructing the knowledge that all things must come to an end and that life and nature is inevitably intertwined in its fragility. Subtle Cruelties is an ode to that knowledge and it’s a wonderful and often chilling exploration in finding hope after death.
Subtle Cruelties can be ordered via Handmade Birds Records now.