Los Salvadores’ Incredible Shrinking Man EP follows the traditional EP format of providing a shot across the musical bows, a statement of ‘where we are now’ before moving onto bigger things. Surprisingly for a folk band, that’s the most traditional thing about the Kent band’s latest release.
Whether it’s their unconventional guitar/French horn/violin set-up, or a healthy disdain for genre boundaries and traditional song structure, Los Salvadores seem determined to do things their own way and on their own terms.
The band’s recent live shows have showcased a growing assurance in their freewheeling, free-spirited approach to folk music and, lyrically, the EP seems pre-occupied with change, transition, renewal and breaking with the past.
While many of their songs document Kentish folklore and legend, those on the Incredible Shrinking Man are more suggestive and associative, from ‘The Plunderer’s’ rebellion and parting shots, to the obsessive, destructive side-show love affair of ‘The Mistress of Distress…’
The dark tone of the songs is leavened by the theatricality of the arrangements, which recall Bellowhead’s rollicking, carnivalesque approach to folk. Guitar and French horn chase each other around like fox and hare in ‘The Plunderer’, ‘The Last Soiree’ captures some of The Unthanks’ choral atmospherics, while ‘The Mistress of Distress…’ sees some nice vocal interplay between singers Gareth and Vicky.
Mistress of Distress and The Incredible Shrinking Man by Los Salvadores
The title track captures the band’s recent approach in a nutshell: fleet-footed shifts in tempo and dynamics, shifting narrative perspectives and a bold approach to lyrics that moves away from traditional folk approaches of ‘telling it like it is’ to a feverish collage of images and suggestions that leaves the listener to draw their own conclusions.
It’s a neat trick, and coupled with Los Salvadores’ dramatic playing, breathes an air of depth and mystery into their songs. At times it’s like watching a zoetrope: magical and intriguing, in part because you have to stare hard to see what’s going on through the gaps and the flashes of light and dark.
If the lyrical content is dark and ambiguous, the music on the album is always engaging, taking rousing Levellers or Pogues-style folk-punk as a starting point, before running the songs through a kaleidoscope of tones, time signatures and genres. It’s recognisable as folk, but only in the same way that The Naked Lunch was recognisable as a novel, or Jackson Pollock’s work was recognisable as painting.
Perhaps the most respectful thing you can do with folk music, to paraphrase Martin Carthy, is to mess around with it and make it something new. There are a new generation of British folk bands and artists coming through who are doing just that. For all that it’s only a brief three track EP, The Incredible Shrinking Man leaves a heavy hint that Los Salvadores might one day be up there with the best of them.
Photograph (c) Richard Reader