Albums frequently lose creative steam. It happens constantly to bands both creative and drab. Often the most interesting piece of musicianship on an album are the “in-between songs”– the noises and spurts of creativity when the songwriting become less masterpieces than space. You know the phenomenon– there’s a few songs then some new instrumentation enters the fold. Perhaps a piano or a 12-string guitar. There’s an absence of lyrics or maybe just a vocal harmony. And it’s the shortest, simplest, most repetitive song on the album.
It’s also the most creative. You may not relate to it, but that is the point. The in-between songs, as a rule, don’t include you in their plans. They don’t exist to bring you closer to the album. They are disharmonious moments of frustration and bliss– the counteraction to writing and recording an album.
The Hidden Folk is 19 of these songs. Short bursts of creativity, easily mistaken for dolorous or capricious mood music. They should not be dismissed so easily, however.
The harp, the lyre and the thumb piano are but three of a myriad of acoustic instruments that intermingle playfully and pan from ear to ear (this album is best heard on headphones). And with each, comes the feeling of removal– a good thing. These songs are removed from the normal landscape. They are whimsical movements that move like nymphs and fairies through forests of rapid movements. Wind blown leaves, drips of rain, the clouds barely visible, crunching of leaves; the songs create a whirlwind of images without having to try too hard.
Not to say they are effortless. To the contrary, Robin Crutchfield seems like he labored over these songs to make whimsy each song’s marrow. Each is injected with a vision and given an energy that permeates through even the thickness of “Insect Machine” or the lightheartedness of the albums opener “We Find Our Way In.” “Poison Splinter,” my personal favorite, feels like it lasts 4 minutes and it is one of the shortest on the record coming in at just over a minute.
The point of The Hidden Folk may not be the distance between the songs and the listener or the openness of the forest. The point may not be to traipse through the woods. The point may lay lax in the motion. What Robin Crutchfield has created expands the plane of sound beyond acoustic instruments, beyond folk tales or moods. He has created the album within an album– the album that most cannot write. The songs written in short bursts of creativity, the throw-aways for most, the ones outside form are common knowledge and long-form fodder for Crutchfield. It just may surprise the listener how important and necessary his work is– even when the songs seem caught in-between.