Birmingham-bred, London-based duo Malpas occupies an intriguing space somewhere between grounded folk music and cosmic electronica. Singer-songwriter Ali Forbes and producer Andy Savours have created a unique sound that is as arresting as it is palliative, as familiar folk structures are compelled by abrupt, otherworldly synths. What began as an exercise in interwoven, acoustic looping in an attic in Kings Heath, Birmingham, soon became an innovative tale of two cities and two sounds that culminated in the release of their 2013 EP Promise. Malpas is back this year with debut album Rain River Sea, an original and exciting collection of sprawling sounds and lovely storytelling.
Opener Under Her Sails begins as a quirky but fairly unassuming folk song; glockenspiel and egg shaker generate an air of innocence before the track gets progressively darker as more and more electronic interjections create a dense soundscape. Forbes’ handsome but modest voice is almost swallowed by layers of acoustic instruments and growling synths, while an unexpected but beautiful string countermelody makes the occasional appearance. Under Her Sails makes for an intelligently textured introduction to the album before the aching and anxious single Where The River Runs takes over.
Sea Decide gracefully evokes an underwater immersion before we emerge at the shoreline with beautiful vocal harmonies and folky lyrics complemented by punchy percussion. Gentle guitar and dreamy layered vocals define the opening of Us Afloat until the inevitable synth invasion kicks into gear. The Green Light offers a much lighter texture that twinkles with Forbes’ falsetto and interesting phrasing, and Savours’ graceful, nimble beats. The short-lived Spiders pushes the album forward with driving percussion, creating an intense, fleeting frenzy before Charlemagne brings us back down to lovesick earth with the unanswered question “when will you return to me?” June Exit Strategy closes out the album with lovely languor, with a standout performance from Forbes’ as Rain River Sea ends on a beautiful note of dreamy serenity.
While these duelling influences sometimes teeter on the edge of awkwardness, Rain River Sea never becomes clumsy. The album remains an elegant marriage of contradictory elements that seamlessly explores an undefinable space between earth and cosmos, revealing a complex tapestry of sonic intricacies.