Genre: Neofolk / Folk / Pop Folk
01) The Marble Boy
02) Butterfly on the Wall
03) Her Belly Scar
04) Josephine and the Lantern
05) The Witch’s Son
06) Cathedrals in the Sun
07) My Spectral Summer
Jacques, a Robin is another brand new folk pop project with neofolk similarities. Many will remember my review of Kentin Jivek’s “Ode to Marmæle” earlier this year, another work of pop folk with neofolk influences, and while that release followed several different styles of folk music and language, Jacques, a Robin tends to stick to what he knows — an English style of folk with accompanying romantic/subdued English artwork and lyrics. That isn’t to say there isn’t more here than meets the eye, as we’ll get into with the review of the music itself — in fact, the opening track is based off of strong jazz elements and shows the soul of the project immediately. The project is the solo project of founder Davide Arisasso, as he’s accompanied by Stew Jackson and Dan Brown, known in the pop/rock world as the production duo “Robot Club”, Nathan Daniel, Mark Gartside, Richard Parsons, and a whole host of other musicians and vocalists. Needless to say, even when viewing this album as a ‘solo effort’, it’s important to note that the sheer number of accompanying positions leaves this album feeling expertly composed and full in production.
The project was born, with Davide, in his youth in the Northern Italian countryside. As Davide himself puts it, “I was born…in an era when the last remnants of traditional culture were suddenly and quickly fading away, wiped out by a new era of violent consumerism and confused values.” Immediately, the philosophic anti-modern ears of most neofolk followers should perk up in interest from this sentiment. Though the music on Statuettes isn’t political in nature, his melancholic, mournful songs of memory are certainly influenced by a longing of the innocence and childhood that was prematurely ripped out from under him by the changing times and deaths in the family. With this line of thinking in mind, Statuettes has been dedicated simply to “Elena” — Davide’s near-twin sister whom had passed away early in life. It was both a combination of abandoning Sunday worship for the natural and mysterious world of nature, a developing love for art and literature, and the introduction to artists such as My Bloody Valentine and Syd Barrett that eventually defined his introduction into music with a dark atmosphere and romantic appeal, as well as influencing his immigration to England. It was a further experience, unique to Davide and a friend that involved the witnessing of an angel that designated his soul, robin wings and all, to England.
Statuettes begins with a moderately jazzy number with a dreamy, descending melodic instrumental line. Full of minor progressions, initially “The Marble Boy” reminds of some of the acoustic side of Opeth and other progressively-influenced dark rock influences. The voice quickly takes over though and brings us into a world unique to Jacques, a Robin. A moody and lightly surreal track that reminds of the atmosphere that Beth Gibbons managed to achieve with Dummy-era Portishead and its emotional brutality. “Butterfly on the Wall” seems to take over an all-together different personality however, with a nod towards more traditional string/acoustic-based folk. It’s impossible not to have thoughts of songs on Rome’s “Flowers from Exile”. “Josephine and the Lantern” can be compared to some tracks by fellow unsigned pop folk artist Kentin Jivek, featuring dual gender vocals and softly flowing romanticism. Gently plucked guitars and minimal strings that stray largely into the background of the track give off a largely French sensibility. “The Witch’s Son” takes up much the same character but in a less serious, more playful waltzing atmosphere. Strangely, even after this shift in mood, “Cathedrals in the Sun” is able immediately re-take the seriousness in sound. More Rome-esque vocals are found here with perhaps the most lush music on the album, softly drifting piano melodies backed by lulling, thick string arrangements. Though the lyrics are abstract and downright surreal in moments, they retain they retain a warm and yet depressive nature that follows through until the very last second of low-end organ fades out. The closing track, “My Spectral Summer” is the first single from the album and perhaps the most noticeably emotional track for Davide. At points in the vocal track, the voice sounds strained as if choking back tears. There are also shoegazed guitar/string lines far in the background bridging instrumental segments which add to the overall nostalgic quality of the music. A fitting track to end an album that has expressed a quality that is rarely seen on debuts, let alone self-financed releases.
Though the story Davide tells behind the witness of an angel perfectly defines the project itself, it’s hard to believe that when Davide named his project Jacques, a Robin, he wasn’t influenced by the great Belgian champion of the contemporary chanson Jacques Brel. After all, the man had a theatrical style similar to that of Jacques, a Robin, as well as a largely devotional fan-base in the romantic land of France. Similarities can also be found in voice and composition, though Davide’s compositions are understandably more attuned to a modern audience. The reasoning behind the theme and name of the project isn’t nearly as important as the sound though — and with his debut, “Statuettes”, Davide has more than impressed impressed. It’s certainly a fresh and unique sound to any ear that declares neofolk as a top genre choice for their listening experience. While overall the compositions and the production are flawless, perhaps it would be nice to hear more percussive textures or a song or two that pull away from the shallow end of his emotions regarding his childhood and straight into the deep end. The truth is that at times the album seems held back, as a path that borders and occasionally dips into the outer reaches of the forest, but never quite ventures into the heart of it. There seems to be something missing here, an honesty that needs an allowance to see the light of day. While Statuettes will achieve a near perfect mark — something that is difficult to do with a debut offering — we’d urge the artist to swing those doors wide open for his sophomore effort.