Album review: Year Of The Bird by Oliver Cole
Oliver Cole is well acquainted with the music scene, releasing his debut album over five years ago, and his second album, Year Of The Bird, will be released at the end of this month. Admittedly, five years is quite a gap between two albums, but the acclaimed musician has the most valid of reasons for the delay. Initially ear-marked to be self-released in 2013, Cole’s plans were somewhat scuppered in the best of ways when none other than Snow Patrol’s Gary Lightbody heard a track from the album at a party in London. Just one listen was enough to whet the frontman’s appetite and seeing the potential of such a charmingly subdued and folk-esque album decided to release it on his Third Bar label.
However, the rise and rise of this album was not as simple as that. Cole himself admits that this album was not the result of a handful of days spent jamming in a studio, although he does note that ‘usually the writing and recording part is pretty quick’, it is the subsequent self-doubt and sometimes pointless editing that delays the process. It is this uncertainty and development that resulted in such a drawn-out process, but Cole admits that the album itself was a joy to write and record.
For him, Year Of The Bird is ‘a dream-like album’, it is entwined with love, passions, and hopeful new beginnings – it is an album that wished to convey the most basic, and yet powerful, human emotions through music. The fact that this album is a labour of love is further emphasised by the fact that he chose to record the album at home and played the majority of instruments on it. However, there is an added richness to its quality given that Cole’s long-time partners in crime, Gavin Fox, Binzer Brennan, Gemma Hayes, and Glen Hansard, just to name a few.
Whilst at times the album may seem quite dark, it is classed as a love record, and Cole admits to recording it during a ‘very bright and creative time in my life’. Lyrics were his foremost concern, wanting them to be an outward expression of how he was feeling, there was a desire to try and attain unattainable beauty which resulted in very free arrangements with a lot of ad-libbed vocals and instrumentation to create an almost dream like ethereal environment for these love poems to live in. The rustic quality of this album further stems from Cole’s attempt to play producer and while he agrees he’s not the most experienced at this, he wanted to see how far his abilities reached. ‘I made a rule at the start that everything had to be recorded in one take (so no Pro-Tools trickery). I played every instrument and often-spent days trying to nail a bass line, guitar part or vocal. I think the ‘one take rule’ and playing everything myself allowed the album to have both looseness and cohesiveness.’
To add to the personal and emotive quality of this album, Year Of The Bird is for Cole’s own little bird, his daughter, Emily Wren. The track of the same name is clearly filled with all the affection and adoration he holds for his own little girl, there’s an optimistic twinkle to lingering guitar intro, and his lyrics come almost as words of advice and caution. It’s as if he is using this song to bestow some well thought-out advice to his young one, ‘It takes times to feel and trust what is real’. It’s partially folk but with an experimental edge, the careful arrangement of dynamics and production becomes clear. It is in this track that one can see the album is most definitely tied together by a variety of emotions and experience rather than a singular focus.
Opening with ‘Helium Heart’, the emotive quality that Cole was trying to work into this album is already palpable. The slow, pulsating quality to the song bears a striking similarity to Glen Hansard’s own sound and it’s obvious that Cole not only works with these artists but draws upon their wealth of experience and style to create music that is rich and intertwined with love and affection. ‘Helium Heart’ is the perfect opening track, its slow, simmering quality shows just how talented he is as a musician and writer, not every love song is upbeat nor is every tempered and measured all doom and gloom. There’s the perfect balance of both. ‘I’ll Be Your Shelter’ is initially a little unnerving, the ghostly and eerie quality manages to demonstrate the brilliant variance within Year Of The Bird. This track has a slower build than the others and Cole matches his voice to this tempo change perfectly, demonstrating his prowess as writer and singer alike.
‘Golden Leaf’ and the wonderfully titled ‘Ah Ooh Ooh’ have the same charming quality to them, there’s an ease to Cole’s vocals, and the focus is drawn to the lyrics, the gentleness of Cole’s guitar against the steady pulse of drums. Think Bon Iver but Irish. These two tracks became the standout singles for me as they managed to be well-paced, controlled, and emotive but without any forcefulness in the vocals. Everything feels genuine, well-thought out, and carefully crafted, and when one considers that they can’t help but realise why this album had such growing pains.
Review by Elaine McDonald