Graham Richardson’s penchant for electronic transformation and deliberate distortion becomes like a sky stung with sudden gusts of harmony and wisps of melody on his third full-length work, The Safety of the North. A brunt of the change seems owing to Richardson’s decision to bind the structure of the music to that of a traditional narrative, with a clear beginning, middle, and end. This helps him better avoid forcing a glut of fragmented ideas and instrumental styles together, with few, if any, ultimately coming across as distinctly his own.
It’s a clear step forward, then, as Richardson moves further away from pussyfooting around with vaguely pre-determined sound structures and styles and connects with something that feels more personally sourced, something that, in retrospect, his past works always nudged at, but never quite brought out. There is a stronger immediate comfort in Richardson’s playing, particularly when he’s dotting the mise en scene with will-o-wisp melodies, low, groaning guitars, and flickering digital firefly sounds.
The inclusion of vocal contributions from a small clutch of singers adds to the emotional shading and unicity of the compositions. Stepping down from her duties in Familiar Trees, vocalist Fabiola Sanchez lends a certain grace to the finger-picked guitar, water-drip keyboard lines, and clunky rhythm of “May Your Days Be Gold”. On one of the albums most charming and effective pieces, “Thoughts of Alice”, Neamh Rose Breen’s child-like spoken-word gambit, set against a solemn organ refrain and cool atmospherics, lends the piece a portentous feel. Its promises are made good through the remaining pieces, a series of elaborations and extensions on these unresolved sentiments, which make this Richardson’s most accomplished work yet.