Richard James - We Went Riding

by Pete Sykes Rating:8 Release Date:2010-06-21

Welsh psych-folksters Gorky's Zygotic Mynci, who split up in 2006, are one of the criminally underrated bands in the last two decades of British music. Over 15 years they released 10 albums of weird, infectious indie-pop, at least two of which - 1997's Barafundle and 2001's How I Long to Feel that Summer in My Heart - were near-perfect. The former was stronger on the surreal whimsy that frontman Euros Childs persevered with (brilliantly, I might add, on Bore Da and The Miracle Inn) after the band split; the latter was more meditative and bittersweet. It's this style that Richard James has pursued on his solo material - first with the warm, gentle fuzz of The Seven Sleeper's Den in 2006, and now with this utterly gorgeous, summery album of pastoral folk-pop (which is almost a Gorky's reunion, as Childs pops up singing backing vocals on the majority of tracks). We Went Riding might find James in familiar territory, but it's so effortlessly sweet, rich and appealing that it knocks today's 'nu-folk' up-and-comers into the shade.

Opener 'Aveline' is the kind of melancholic love song that James can presumably write with his eyes closed; its best moment comes as the simple acoustic guitar riff that runs through the song shifts beautifully into a minor key. After that restrained opening, the record temporarily summons a burst of energy, with the fiddle-laden folk-pop of 'When You See Me (in the Pouring Rain)' and the rootsy stomp of 'Faces', both enjoyably ersatz. But soon James is back in the golden acoustic folk territory that we know and love. 'When the Letter Arrives' is ingeniously simple, built around a gorgeous, drifting melody; the title track's slide guitar and blissfully languid pace shift at the halfway mark into majestic, minor-key dream-folk. Best of all is the closer, 'From Morning Sunshine'. It starts with guest Cate Le Bon singing enigmatically, in her Nico-esque way, of "mountain ranges" and "stormy seas", as an exquisite guitar line is augmented by a subtle organ and piano. Then James joins in halfway through the song, chanting repeatedly "We were always waiting for a rainy day." The effect is electrifying, and then the song ends, an epic in less than three minutes.

Lyrically, We Went Riding features the usual James mix of sweet songs of love - of the unrequited, doomed and happy varieties - and an obsession with nature. There's nothing particularly new or shocking being said, but James delivers his lyrics with a straight face and a certain intimacy. From the opening seconds of the album, when a snatch of conversation gives way to James' "1, 2, 3, 4" - spoken in his lilting Welsh accent - to the title track, when we can hear him opening his mouth and breathing in between lines, it's like he's in the room with you. The effect is cosy, friendly and warm, and adds another level of enjoyment to a record of pretty, well-crafted songs that aren't going to set the world alight, but make for a charming listen. Gorky's may not be around anymore, but Richard James and Euros Childs are still proving what excellent (and underrated) songwriters they are.

Pete Sykes

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