The reaction you had to those two words may or may not say a great deal about you as a person; but certainly ‘folk rock’ is a genre which, despite what some might argue is its inoffensive ubiquity, is peculiarly divisive. For everyone who loves Fleetwood Mac, there’s another person who would happily burn a thousand copies a minute of Rumours; for every fond image of Bob Dylan there is another of, well, Jethro Tull. In recent years, even the two genres involved seem to have decided their relationship wasn’t working: as part of the wider nicehing of the music industry, folkies and rockers stay a little further apart than they once did.
So Erland and The Carnival are in many ways an unfashionable band. Not only do they retain some of the Britpop swagger of The Verve and Blur, with whom multi-instrumentalist Simon Tong once played; their debut record offers contemporary arrangements of a series of traditional folk songs, ‘Love Is A Killing Thing’, ‘Was You Ever See’, and ‘Gentle Gwen’ among them. The album opens with a woozy overture which would not have been out of place in The Whicker Man, and Erland Cooper, the band’s singer and driving folkie force, has the fey lilt of his forebears. Even originals – such as ‘The Derby Ram’ – sound less like bold forays into new territory and more like Drever, McCusker and Woomble.
They lack, then, much in the way of Bakhtinian release. There may even be something of the dread Kula Shaker in their appropriations of indigenous forms. But if you get past its essential formalism, the record is accomplished and even affecting – often in no small part thanks to the drumming of third band member David Nock. ‘Trouble In Mind’ might be an early contender for indie pop hit of the year; ‘My Name Is Carnival’, all Sixtiesish whirling backing and hooky tacits, is more memorable than many songs on worthier LPs; and the David Kitt-ish closer, ‘The Echoing Green’, proves that there is more to the group than their opening gambit. If, ultimately, the record gives the impression of a souped-up-but-not-quite-as-clever Butcher Boy, that might not be unfair. But it might obscure some of the other pleasures it has to offer.
You can test them out for yourself, of course, on their MySpace.