The concept of ‘world music’ is a diminutive name often used to describe any music that isn’t explicitly western, but there’s really no other genre that can be used to describe Everything Sacred, an album which actively strives to knock down boundaries between musical cultures. Part Scottish folk, part North Indian classical, part jazz, the album defies classification, both in terms of its sound, and the content and conceptualization of the songs.
The folk component of the trio is James Yorkston, longtime participant in the Scottish folk scene and member of the Fence Collective, who’s roster has included King Creosote and The Beta Band. His contribution to the album consists largely of his vocals and gentle guitar. The sounds made by Suhail Yusuf Khan work as a counterpoint, his Sarangi providing striking melodies and more abrasive sounds, whilst his sweet Hindustani singing providing a more warm texture than Yorkston’s chillier tones. It’s all anchored into something resembling a structure by Jon Thorne’s double bass, which provides a much needed grounding and rhythm as the other two musician pursue their tangents.
Opening track Knochentanz is a great example of what makes this album so unique and fascinating when it’s working at its peak. At its beginning, it sounds like it could almost be from any intimate folk record, its lilting guitars and firm bass creating an evocative sense of melancholy. But the Khan’s Sarangi enters the mix and provides a central refrain, which infuses the track with momentum. The guitar picking speeds up and graduates to strumming, the bass becomes more frequent, the Sarangi playing running quarter-notes, and it all builds to a rollicking climax that resembled barn-burning English folk. But then 8 minutes into a 13 minute song, all the instruments drop out except the bass, and Khan begins to sing in Hindi, and what was sweeping becomes intimate. But then just as soon as he’s finished, the band gets back to what it was doing and begins another run to an adrenaline-fuelled climax. At 13 minutes the song is a true epic, spanning a huge range of dynamics, sounds and most importantly, cultures.
The track is a great microcosm of everything that is excellent about Everything Sacred, but not every track is quite as substantial as the opener. Second track and pre-release single Little Black Buzzer is a cover of Ivor Cutler’s song of the same name, and it features Irish singer Lisa O’Neill, channeling her inner Bjork. Unfortunately the lyrics detract from the song’s gravitas, with lines like “my bum is cold” being too cutesy for their own good. The songs more involved with Khan tend to be stronger, Sufi Song being a particular standout, it’s tense bass thumbing underscoring the vocals perfectly.
In terms of cohesiveness, this album essentially has none, but it doesn’t seem to be supposed to. It wildly oscillates between the styles of its members, and it’s at its best when it manages to merge their styles naturally, instead of alternating amongst them. It’s not quite as consistently fantastic as the opening track suggests it could be, and tellingly none of the other songs match its ambitious length. However, the rest of the music contains gems throughout (the aforementioned Sufi Song and closer Blues Jumped the Goose are particularly strong), and the variety renders the album a fascinating, if not always thrilling listen.