It is a rare feeling when a record can instantly whip the listener into an overwhelming panic by the time it has barely reached the midway point. Panic is the only word for it. All of a sudden the realization that something so colossal and perfect has been evasive for this long is maddening. Further inquiry into the artist only scratches the surface to reveal more bittersweet gems, and heaping more shame upon the frenzied listener’s taxed soul. Shame, because one’s radar has been ineffective enough miss something this crucial. Perhaps I am alone in my own shame? Regardless, Naevus is the future of neofolk, and Lloyd James has been conspiring to build an empire under our noses. Here is a man that has worked with greats like John Murphy, Rose McDowall, Matt Howden, David E. Williams, etc. all within his first three records. To the uninitiated, consider this a warning to avoid a similar panic and dig right into where the classic English neofolk sound and attitude have reawakened in our present era. At first this seems paradoxical: the future through an evocation of the past? Naevus’ seventh album The Division of Labour is an extremely personal and unique take on the genre, reiterating the tongue-in-cheek frustration so prevalent in the classic 80’s and 90’s era of the big English 3*. However, this evocation stretches beyond the limits of solely neofolk, embracing sounds, and presumably subconscious influences, that are indicative of the sceptred isle: the pastoral, the cheeky, the endless grey, the disillusioned punk, and the jaded urban drudge.
There is an infectious dose of cynicism in The Division of Labour that few others are capable of transmitting. An overall disgust with the world rings through in both the intangible imagery and curt honesty. It is neither full of violent hatred nor depressed whining, but more of an apathetic preaching to the unhappy choir. We don’t need to be outright reminded of the same old disdains, and Lloyd James’ stories and portraits do so only in tone. We know we’re on the same page; few words are needed. The folk is of course there, and the acoustic guitars can express everything from sentimentality to autonomic mundanity. At most times the organic nature of the acoustic sounds are engulfed in a swathe of distortion, noise, and/or oddity – the clearest metaphor on the album isn’t found in words. Luckily, a medium such as this is the perfect transmission: not only has neofolk been aligned with a disgust for modernity, but a strong post-punk presence also gives us a touch of personal connection. It is clear that James also co-worships at the altar of Joy Division, so much so that he could not avoid dropping their name into a song. The English underdogs from Manchester gave a human voice and experience to alienation, and echoes of their sombre nature ring throughout Naevus’ work. Songs like “Idiots (Let Me In)” carry the raucous Joy Division edge, and “Bleat Beep” presents the almost staccato binary approach of the classic “Digital” chorus. James chanting “Bleat Beep, Bleat Beep, Bleat Beep” is clearly derived from Curtis’ “Day In, Day Out, Day In, Day Out”, but James wears it on his sleeve and does not want anyone to miss this piece of the puzzle. Altogether, the loss, the cold crackling tones, and the snide-yet-majestic voice all beautifully elaborate the decay we all suffer. Our modern landscape is clearly a source of despise, but even the countryside carries something sinister or sad about it. Nothing can escape the scorn, and rightfully so.
The Division of Labour never relies on a single method of delivery for too long. Across the scope of the record it is possible to experience acoustic driven neofolk, abrasive post-punk, serene Coil-like ambience, militant marches, early alternative rock, and even strident NON diatribes. (Again, all completely justifying the aforementioned panic!) However, the clearest and most powerful element is Lloyd James’ prominent and strikingly smooth voice. It is difficult to adjust to an actual singing voice, but once it envelops and speaks its truth it is hard to imagine going without. Even the most despondent, defeated, and even sinister of lyrical lines can find clear and pleasing passage to our ears, and only later do we realize their gravity. While some vocalists suit a very bardic approach to their narration, James is better suited to read lyrical epics aloud in court. It is a voice that sounds strangely posh in a very gritty environment. Anyone with too much education and not enough opportunity, over-qualifications but no employment, apathy through too much information, no hope of advancement or ownership despite hard work, and the feeling that we have (or will) inherit a dead or dying world will hear a touch of themselves in this voice. It struck with a staggering reality few will be ready for.
We are a generation of cynics, and Naevus’ milestone of the genre will provide the justification in black and white. Initially, the sheer magnitude of the music brought on the elated panic at the treasure trove that an already prolific, new-to-you band provides. For it is music that incorporates all the perfect qualities of several genres’ “golden ages”. Beyond this, after deeply investing into this album, another even more profound dimension reveals itself. Folk is music of the people. For the most part, the people are overworked, underpaid, unfulfilled and miserable. Through The Division of Labour, Naevus has magnificently captured this erosive and completely unnameable sickness that we feel towards this world that has consistently let us down.
*Death In June, Sol Invictus, and Current 93 for those under a rock.
Written by: S. Hache
Label: Hau Ruck!
Genre: Neofolk / Experimental
01. Man In A Ditch
02. Idiots (Let Me In)
03. Bleat Beep
04. Making Hay
05. The Stomach
06. Song In Suspension
07. Hobo Placing
08. Donkey’s Trough
09. Chalk Is Valuable, Keep It In Your Hand