Josh King – Thank Folk For That
Amongst all the stomping, Glasto-headlining, electro-fused folk going on today, it is easy to overlook certain bands who stay true to a more traditional kind of music. Arlet are a six-piece folk ensemble who, in their debut EP, make the kind of music that could soundtrack anything from a country fete, to a midsummer party in the woods, to a dream about flying. What drew me to Arlet was the organic talent and feeling that bursts through with each track, because they make the kind of wonderful, stirring, instrumental, orchestral music that not just folk music, but music in general, is founded. Like Yann Tiersen injected with a good English country spirit, Arlet – with violins, clarinets, accordions and more – make music with a wide and very natural appeal.
Mike Hough - Bright Young Folk
Mike Hough – Bright Young Folk Entirely instrumental, the music straddles the boundary between folk and classical, combining instruments such as double bass and clarinet with the folk sounds of the accordion and guitar. Arlet is a very contemporary and fresh sounding EP. Fine summer listening.
Emily Bright - Bright Young Folk
Since 2011, the Kent-based band Arlet has been defined as standing on the line between chamber music and British folk. Clearing is Arlet’s first full length album following their self-titled EP. The band combines orchestral layering with melodic folk for a unique, individual and distinguishing sound. The five-piece band is driven by accordionist and composer Aidan Shepherd, who synthesizes various different instrumental families to create a large and complex sound; namely woodwind, strings and brass. However the use of electronic sounds in its production gives the album a contemporary tone. It is this diversity that gives Arlet their defining individuality and originality. Aidan’s, Soundtrack and Song for Someone begin with a steady introduction progressing into a broader harmony of sounds. These tracks offer a sweet and comforting yet energetic vibe. The prominence of the accordion gives these tunes a particularly warm and folky sound. With strong fiddle and brass lines throughout, tunes such as Ciao Ragazzi and V12 are two of the more orchestral tunes on the album. They bring to mind the style of traditional sets of jigs and reels in terms of their structure and movement between parts.The Woodturner moves seamlessly from steady and haunting to quiet with increasingly complex and ever-transforming instrumental lines, seeming to epitomise the term ‘progressive’. The introductory track for Summertimes has a significantly electronic and contemporary feel to it that reminds one of alternative folk artists such as the late Martyn Bennett . Summertimes was created as a musical reflection of the British summer, and this uplifting fiddle-led track truly does the job as a fine collection of gentle and melodic folk tunes. With its quick yet winding pace and the pluckiness of the guitar and mandolin, Medway Services is light-heartedly reminiscent of the service station it is named after. Morning After boasts a catchy, tight rhythm and enticing melodies. Fast-paced and plucky in places, and sweet and lamenting in others, Chasing Tales is led by the emphatic and confident trumpet to give jazzy tones to the piece. The overall effect is of a harmonious, progressive and even quietly epic sound. Clearing is true to the tradition of folk music in the comfort of its deliverance, yet experimental enough to push the musical boundaries in very unusual ways. The ever-changing pace, rhythm and melodies of each song make the album a captivating listen. Intelligently subtle, modest and non-confrontational in its entwinement of folk, electronic and orchestral elements, this album is likely to appeal to young, experimental folk and classical enthusiasts.
Johnny Whalley - Folk Radio UK
Just once in a while an album comes along that takes you to places you hadn’t realise existed. Arlet’s Clearing did this, and much more, for me. Arlet’s music achieves this by bringing together elements of folk, jazz and classical chamber music performed on an eclectic range of instruments. I’m old enough to have, several times, lived through periods when ‘fusion’ has been the buzzword in various musical genres. The folk world has certainly not been immune, Afro-Celts and Edward II spring to mind as examples of bands that very specifically set out to explore the crossover between distinct musical styles. Others have taken a more gradual approach, 30 years ago Brass Monkey showed that one doesn’t necessarily have to consciously merge styles, simply adding some distinctly non-folk instruments will do the trick. The test of success, though, remains the same; the listener shouldn’t be aware of the joins. Arlet’s music treads a path that has elements of both these approaches and it most certainly passes the ‘joins’ test. Arlet have been described as “an organic collective” but acknowledged leader, Aidan Shepherd, points out that for the last two years the line up has remained stable and that has encouraged the recent burst of recording, first a self-titled EP in January 2013 and now a full length album. This stable line up comprises Aidan, accordion and principal composer; Rosie Holden, violin; Ben Insall, guitar; Owen Hewson, clarinet and Thom Harmsworth, euphonium. On all the tracks of Clearing, they are joined by James Gow, double bass and Andy Renshaw, percussion, whilst on specific tracks, Nick Walters adds trumpet and Raven Bush mandolin. This array of musicians brings together backgrounds in traditional and contemporary folk, jazz, classical and contemporary ‘serious’ music and brass bands, with an occasional foray into prog rock. And, yes, it’s easy to identify all of these influences in the music but the great pleasure on offer comes not from playing a game of ‘spot the influence’ but from revelling in the seamless interplay between them. A typical track has passages with a distinctly folk inspired melody picked out on accordion backed by a guitar rhythm; the violin picks up parts of the melody, soon adding phrases of its own, and is joined in similar vein by clarinet and euphonium. Almost before you realise, the band is in full chamber music mode with phrases being passed from instrument to instrument, the composition developing innumerable layers. You may then start to hear, in the lower registers of the accordion perhaps, a new rhythm emerge, a jazz rhythm and the piece moves into a new phase. But here I am doing exactly what I said not to do! This is music to appreciate in its entirety, relax, let the sound carry your thoughts with it and then its subtle changes of pace and style will creep in, each one bringing a delightful surprise. Aidan has composed all but two short sections of the music on Clearing but he’s reported as saying that the band is taking tentative steps into writing music collectively. This may well take them in new and even more adventurous directions, but, for now, this is an album I can envisage listening to for a long time to come, as the man may have said, ‘Arlet’s album is for life, not just for Christmas’.
David Kidman - fRoots
The hallowed F-word represents a broad church indeed, and Arlet, a mostly-Kent based septet is particularly well-versed in the expression and meeting of diverse musical perspectives. Its elliptical dance-derived tune patterns are woven from an impressive range of textures and dynamics, while the ensemble’s keen individual and collective musicianship displays a broadly experimental aesthetic and intuitive interactive rapport that’s derived as much from the classical chamber ensemble as from the jazz combo or the folk session and indeed from the Canterbury school of early prog. Arlet boasts a quite unusual instrumental complement – accordion, violin, guitar, clarinet, euphonium, double bass and percussion. Together, Aidan Shepherd, Rosie Holden, Ben Insall, Owen Hewson, Thom Harmsworth, James Gow and Andy Renshaw proudly encompass a healthy range of musical disciplines from improv and prog rock to ceilidh bands. The outfit’s driving force – and composer of virtually all of its repertoire – is accordionist Aidan, who gives his name to Clearing’s opening track, which happens to be the only one on the disc to feature a recognisable tune from the folk world (in this instance Amy Cann’s latter-day session staple Catharsis which appears after the interestingly irregular time-signatures of the track’s ruminative opening section). The ensuing sequence provides suitably contrasted and rewarding musical experiences. Legato clarinet and accordeon figures offset with the choppier euphonium and guitar rhythms that form the basis of Ciao Ragazzi, while an insistent cyclic motif conjures the motion of the lathe for The Woodturner. Summertimes opens with a passage of creative electronica (courtesy of Seth Scott) that rather recalls Soft Machine, and its enigmatic lyricism is succeeded by the chunkier, forthright, almost violent fiddlestabbing gestures of V12, the intriguing Soundtrack, the jittery Nymanesque busyness of Medway Services and the exuberant gallop of Morning After with its exhilarating Terry Riley counterpoint twixt fiddle, accordeon and euphonium. Finally, the playful Latin-inflected rhythms of disc closer Chasing Tales even afford opportunity for brief solos within the piece’s taut three-and-a-half-minute span. Arlet produce an intelligently coordinated blend of sounds and timbres, and admirers of ‘progressive instrumental chamber folk’ of the ilk of Penguin Cafe Orchestra, some of the more refined excursions of Caravan, or more recently the music of groups like Lau and Spiro perhaps, will find much that is subtly stimulating here.
Nathaniel Handy - Songlines
This debut from a quintet of musicians playing accordion, clarinet, violin, guitar and euphohium straddles the boundaries between folk, jazz and chamber music. The fingerprints of Penguin Cafe are all over it and the sound also brings to mind the work of Bristol experimentalists Spiro. Bandleader and accordionist Aidan Shepherd composed all the tracks, while electronic composer Seth Scott contributes an intro to the tune ‘Summertimes’ that lends a steely minimalism. Rosie Holden’s snaking violin lines and Shepherd’s accordion reveal folk refrains from time to time, while the sound of Owen Hewson’s clarinet and Thom Harmsworth’s euphonium bring out a more orchestral flavour. The sound comes in thick layers, often with an uptempo rhythm, though with these instruments a melancholic air is never far away. Surely, though, Medway service station never sounded so jolly as it does on ‘Medway Services’? The moment when this debut is most interesting is on ‘The Woodturner’, a longer tune that builds from a steady drone base, capturing some of the Steve Reich sound so influential of others in this folk-jazz-classical crossover world, and creating smooth rolls of sound like a musical lathe.
Charlie Elland - FolkWords
A strange characteristic of ‘folk fusion’ is the ease with which ‘folk and …’ (insert whatever word you fancy) appear to come together to form something while at times not entirely unique, becomes idiosyncratic enough for independent recognition. The resulting mongrel, as is the way with such crossbred progeny, often stands eccentrically strong and develops a presence all its own. The latest ‘folk fusion’ to come my way is ‘Clearing’ from Arlet. Although that name may be unfamiliar it’s not unreasonable to advocate they should gain wider appreciation with this album. It is definitely ‘something different’ – a mingling of strings, woodwind and brass that serves up a melodic and rhythmic feast. To pursue the gastronomic analogy – ‘Clearing’ is more of an epicurean experience than a gourmand blow out. There’s much to hear and it delivers some education for the ear. To appreciate what’s on offer you must dedicate serious time and attention. You must allow the band to guide you through the tracks as you would allow a master chef to lead you through a ‘gourmet experience’ menu. Folk influences soak into orchestral layers through joining creative stimulations that at first don’t immediately blend. There’s echoes of jazz, elements of classical, touches of chamber music, suggestions of rock. Yet like that multi-course gourmet meal, progress through the creation to absorb the entirety, from the measured drive of ‘Aidan’s and ‘Ciao Ragazzi’ through the intensity of ‘The Woodturner’ and the elegant exuberance of ‘Summertimes’ to the spritely ‘Morning After’. On ‘Clearing’ Arlet is composer Aidan Shepherd (accordion) Rosie Holden (violin) Ben Insall (guitar) Owen Hewson (clarinet) Thom Harmsworth (euphonium) James Gow (double bass) and Andy Renshaw (percussion) featured on selected tracks are Nick Walters (trumpet) and Raven Bush (mandolin). ‘Clearing’ is another folk offshoot that reassesses defining terms – progressive and experimental possibly, courageous and venturesome perhaps, maybe risky and explorative. To my ears it’s much simpler – an overwhelming sense of musicians enjoying themselves, care-free and down-right different. Not every listener will fall under its spell but those that do will find ‘Clearing’ is something special.
Hans Jansen - Folk Lantern
Sometimes it’s good to look for something else. Surprising yourself with music that doesn’t fit your usual genre. Of course I have a few of the needed instrumental albums, but not often it concerns albums that can be counted as classical music. Recently I was surprised by the English formation Arlet, who with their debut album ‘Clearing’ immediately caught my attention. With a mix of string, wood and brass instruments they found the way to my heart. The music has elements of jazz and classical chamber music where folk is always the leading genre. In a subtle way they experiment with different styles. Arlet consists of Aidan Shepherd (accordion), Owen Hewson, Thom Harmsworth (euphonium), Rosie Holden (violin), Ben Insall (guitar), James Gow (double bass) and Andy Renshaw (percussion). With guest performers Nick Walters (trumpet) and Raven Bush (mandolin). Aidan Shepherd is known as the group’s leader. He is also responsible for the all of the compositions. In the future the band will possibly try to write collective material. Despite all the different styles the band sounds like a whole and they play together well. Within the music you can find minimalistic influences which is why a comparison with Penguin Cafe Orchestra is easily made. While writing these pieces Shepherd found inspiration in everyday situations. This is why situations such as saying goodbye to a friend leaving for vacation, a visit to a service station or the morning after a show led to multiple compositions. Even an imaginary movie soundtrack and English summers were translated into music. The album opens with ‘Aidan’s’ in which Shepherd imagines what it would be like to compose with his namesake Aidan O’Rourke (Lau) – it then goes on describing Aidan’s, Ciao Raggazi and The Woodburner. Summer is beautifully represented in two pieces. The two minute ‘Summertimes Intro’ seems to conjure insects to come out of the warm grass. In all its elegance ‘Summertimes’ then revives the summer. The temptation is too big to also describe the rest of the album, but let me end this review as abruptly as the album itself and leave those impressions to the listener. If i’ve managed to get the reader to listen to Arlet, then i’m a happy camper. All that’s left for me to say is that the album has a very beautiful casing. The album ‘Clearing’ is with all its creativity a feast for both eyes and ears.