Yes, Josh Record is another singer songwriter acoustic troubadour. But wait – since the release last year of The War and Bones EPs, Pillars has been a long time coming and positions him as something of a British alternative to Bon Iver (well… maybe an Aldi version at least).
For some, the Bon Iver comparison is an indication of sumptuous harmonies, falsetto vocals and beautifully emotive melodies; for others it’s simply a case of overwrought emotion, even boredom. Record is guilty of both. On the one hand it’s easy to get lost in the arrangements, reminiscent of haunted, chilly snowscapes far away from the metropolis of London where he currently resides. Guitars are gently strummed amongst delicate electronica and subtle percussion, his ghostly vocals joined by a breeze of lush harmonies – on the Fleet Foxes-esque opener Bones especially.
Yet on the other hand, his style is a little too close to that of Justin Vernon. This mainly stems from the combination of picturesque production and Record’s hushed falsetto: the soaring chorus of Wide Awake especially is pure Vernon, whilst the frosty Alaska is even named after a US state, just as Vernon did on some of the tracks of his last album. At times, too, Record descends into tired singer-songwriter territory. Find Her Way To Me is a purely acoustic track accompanied by romantic strings (yawn), whilst Finally is remarkable only for the deeper timbre of the vocal.
That said, Pillars does contain some moments of stunning beauty. Fans will already be familiar with For Your Love and its yearning chorus, but there’s also the a capella middle eight of Pictures In The Dark, the crystalline reverbed guitars of Wonder, and tearjerker The War that depicts a breaking relationship (“though our arguments are many and your eyes are always sore, I promise you we’ll get there, this war is almost won”). Heartbreak is something that Record, like all folk musicians, does very well.
It’s on these tracks that he breaks the mould of his influences and really comes into his own. With a few more dashes of such inspiration, this could’ve been a truly standout debut album. Instead, this Record sounds a little broken but remains well worth a spin.