Review: Sweet Billy Pilgrim – Crown and Treaty
Published on February 1st, 2012 | Jonny Abrams
The buzz: Buckinghamshire four-piece release third album, the follow-up to 2009’s Mercury Music Prize-nominated Twice Born Men. Furthermore, it is “a rumination upon history and our place within it, [and] it is the result of songwriter Tim Elsenburg’s change in circumstances, living alone for the first time in many years with enough money finally from a small publishing deal to actually devote himself full-time to making a new record.” Exciting times, then.
Sounds like: Opener “Joyful Reunion” sounds like just that, all melancholy-infused major keys, sweeping build-up and multi-layered vocals, and it’s one of the most epic starts to an album you’re likely to hear all year. Elsenburg’s vocals are sensational, flitting between softly hushed and swoonsomely soaring like it was the most natural thing in the world. (Dare we draw comparison with Jeff Buckley? Oh, we dare alright.)
If the band do still record in a garden shed – heck, even if they don’t – then this production is a remarkable accomplishment; it’s big, it’s spacious, it’s shimmering, it’s colourful, and Alistair Hamer’s drums crash like waves when the occasion calls for it. This proliferation of elements could overwhelm were it not so gleaming and perfectly spaced, attributes which can over-inflate songs in the wrong hands but in this case serve to emphasise the clarity, and therefore the range, of the emotions on show.
A behind-the-scenes look at the recording of “Joyful Reunion”
“Blakefield Gold” is a thing of true beauty, its twanging banjo and choral harmonies combining to sound like Summer Hymns ascending to heaven, while other strong early impressions include the sinisterly trudging “Arrived At Upside Down”, the pared-down nature of which allows Elsenburg’s vocals to dominate with a Thom Yorke-like intensity, the warm vintage soul of “Kracklite”, and the gently swaying yet fire-bellied boy-girl harmonising of rousing closer “Blue Sky Falls”.
Further listens will no doubt reveal initially hidden depths to this impressive melting pot, but that’s no implication of inaccessibility; this kind of open-armed, uninhibited splendour can’t help but move you from the offset.
In a few words: Epic, soaring, gorgeous, deceptively intricate and delicately paced. A triumph.
Kind of like a cross between: Elbow – Cast of Thousands and The Antlers – Hospice
Crown and Treaty will be released on 30th April by EMI. For more information, please visit sweetbillypilgrim.com