Release Date: May 5, 2009
Record label: Drag City
Genre(s): Indie, Rock
Lurking between classic Brit folk, its nu folk parallel and lo-fi indie, Roberts continues to surprise. After the death balladry of No Earthly Man and the relatively upbeat The Amber Gatherers, he's now doing seriously weird, with added humour and tunes. Part-Incredible String Band, part- Lal Waterson,but mostly magnificently unique. .
You know all those singer-songwriters who get called "intelligent" just because the coy cultural references they make are so easily gotten by anyone else who reads McSweeney's? Yes? Well, fuck them in the eye socket with their own falling-apart thesauruses! Better yet, fuck them in the eye socket with an Alasdair Roberts record-- with this record, Spoils. Because, damn, Alasdair Roberts has made the best album of his 14-year career. And while it's very smart, you might not even know that it's as smart as it is until after you've heard it a dozen times.
Scottish band turns on electricityThe crashing drums, doomsday harmonium and tortured electric guitar sound completely appropriate on Spoils’ “Hazel Forks”—remarkable, considering that the Alasdair Roberts original possesses all the hallmarks of a traditional folk ballad. This is exactly what troubadour Roberts accomplishes on his fifth solo album: He takes his homeland’s countryside and plugs it into the 21st century. His voice and fingerpicking tend toward the haunting, enduring folk melodies he’s explored on previous albums, but the backing here ranges from a sweet violin for “Under No Enchantment (But My Own)” to a percussive thunderstorm for “Ned Ludd’s Rant (For A World Rebarbarised),” where the players sound like they might’ve had too much to drink, as they scramble through a progressive-rock instrumental patch.
Almost a decade ago, Alasdair Roberts made an incomparably weird record called The Night Is Advancing with his old band Appendix Out. Incomparable for the times that is – but a good stab at updating The Incredible String Band’s psychedelic folk with synths and drum-machines. Maybe there was a bit of Can in there, too. Around that time, Ali also helped Jason Molina soundtrack the classic dark nights of the soul that are The Lioness and Ghost Tropic by Songs:Ohia, so the hope was that he’d continue on a similarly dark path.
It’s difficult to escape comparisons to Will Oldham when reading through reviews of Alasdair Roberts' work, with many writers settling on the simple epithet: “Scotland’s answer to Bonnie “Prince” Billy. ” The two songwriters share a love of simple arrangements furnished with gently strummed guitars and unconventional subject matter. Legend has it that Roberts got a record deal with Drag City after passing a demo tape to Oldham at a show.
Singer-songwriters like Alasdair Roberts have both a head start and a handicap when creating new albums. Roberts is a Scottish folk musician, and that comes with a long history and an equally long list of expectations. Fans of Scottish folk music will flock to him because of those expectations, while other listeners will only be impressed if Roberts defies such expectations.
As it is with all unheralded gems, those who like Alasdair Roberts really like Alasdair Roberts. Since ceasing Appendix Out operations at the turn of the century, Roberts has quietly built an astounding catalog of singular, psych-tinged Scottish balladry that attracted scant recognition from both mainstream and indie outlets. One might expect a guy who runs in the same circles as Will Oldham and Jason Molina to have broken through by this point, but perhaps it’s for the best.