Wed. Apr 14th, 2021

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EP Review: Ed Harcourt – Time of Dust

3 min read

Ed Harcourt has said this in regards to his latest release, the ‘mini-album’ Time of Dust:

‘Early next year, I’m heading into the studio with Flood (Nine Inch Nails, PJ Harvey, etc.) to work on an album of evil songs, but before I set sail for the edge of the world, I wanted to break people in gently. Think of Time of Dust as a piece of the map I’ll be using to navigate the fog and fire. Or maybe it’s the creak of the floorboard before the wolf pounces?’

Ed Harcourt - Time of DustAnd a bridge between the earnest piano balladeering of Harcourt’s previous album Back Into the Woods and the tinkering with a sinister musical underworld is exactly what Time of Dust feels like. The result is intriguing, with certain moments providing reason to be excited about Harcourt’s movement to a more baleful sound, and confirming that the frequent allusions made to artists like Tom Waits and Nick Cave in discussions of Harcourt’s work are, in most cases, warranted.

Listeners are ushered into Time of Dust by the unsettling opening track Come Into My Dreamland, which has an almost submarine feel thanks to a spooky, reverb-sodden piano line, and Harcourt’s gentle but sonorous welcome in the first line brings to mind the ‘dreamy weather’ that introduces Tom Waits’ lachrymose classic Alice.

Whilst lyrically the album maintains this rather sombre air, the music does not in all cases follow suit. The title-track and We All Went Down With the Ship are both upbeat, the groove in the latter sounding at almost like a bit of ‘90s electronica, and both have hooks to rival those riding the radio waves.

Parliament of Crooks is a duet with Kathryn Williams, her soft vocals adding a wistfulness to the track’s beguiling melody.

The remaining tracks, The Saddest Orchestra (It Only Plays For You) and Love is a Minor Key are, to my ears, the strongest on the record. The latter’s relatively simple production lets Harcourt’s voice shine, giving it a depth of emotion and a conviction that are perhaps absent in other tunes. The same goes generally for the former, but it is the movement between this rawness, this delicacy, and a multi-layered melodic forcefulness that I find so appealing about the track.

Whilst I have a soft spot for the whole understated piano man thing that Harcourt had going on with Back Into the Woods, Time of Dust, the rest stop on his musical journey down a gloomier path, has shown that his forbidding final destination should be anticipated eagerly.