London sextet Goldheart Assembly have been doing things the honest way for the past couple of years, charming small crowds before moving on to larger rooms and small festivals and, via a BBC Introducing leg-up at 2009’s Glastonbury Festival, they’re now looking likely to embrace a considerably bigger audience with the release of this debut album.
Its timing is perfect, with Mumford & Sons enjoying unforeseen mainstream recognition and Fleet Foxes still regularly popping up on daytime radio. Goldheart Assembly’s sound isn’t quite as folk-indebted as the former’s dusty demeanor, and nor is it as magically whimsical as the latter’s otherworldliness, but there are definite elements of similarity, particularly the strong vocal harmonising. Perhaps a closer comparison, compositionally, is The Magic Numbers – take their sunshine-flecked pop at its finest, throw in a little spit and sawdust, and you’re in the right place.
Parallels aside – useful though they are for immediacy – Wolves and Thieves makes a decent stab at stamping an identity of its own once properly underway. Opener and single King of Rome is a splendidly rollicking, country-kissed pop-rocker that has wormed its way onto playlists with the same effortless ease exhibited by Fleet Foxes’ Mykonos. Both songs resonate with an innate familiarity, yet simultaneously seem to present something sparkly new. Whatever the formula for such instant-of-appeal offerings is, Goldheart Assembly have it committed to memory. But they don’t stick to it exclusively.
Anvil softens the mood, xylophone chimes underpinning a delicate acoustic ballad; So Long St Christopher, meanwhile, swells proudly with archaic organ tones preceding a lycan howl of freak-folk-ish temperament. Jesus Wheel is the album’s dark heart, a rumbling rumination on the acceptance of inadequacy, yet the following Reminder is a quasi-shanty sure to raise a smile. The album expresses its diversity without ever distancing itself from the core components that make it work: namely James Dale’s affecting lead vocals, carefully entwined yet purely organic instrumentation, and an overall vibe that’s got its roots in pastoral Californian pop of the past.
It’s not overly showy nor ground-breaking, and it will stir thoughts of other, perhaps slightly more accomplished performers. But such is the inherent sweetness of Goldheart Assembly’s debut that the listener can’t fail to be touched by its charms, slight though they are, and all signs here point to a deserved increase in popularity and perhaps a second album to truly celebrate. --Mike Diver
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