ALBUM: Hilary Woods – ‘Birthmarks’

Both an aural purge of insecurities and a powerful exploration of self-autonomy, multi-instrumentalist Hilary Woods‘ second album Birthmarks is a cohesive set of shadowy soundscapes that smolder with quiet intensity. Darker and sharper in sound when compared to her debut album, Colt, the Irish musician has collaborated with Norwegian experimental noise producer & filmmaker Lasse Marhaug for this latest release on Sacred Bones Records.

Recorded over the course of two years between Galway and Oslo whilst Woods was heavily pregnant, Birthmarks feels like her most personal and powerful record to date. Inspired by field recordings, the images from post-war Japanese & wet-plate photography and the secret life of trees, Woods’ far-reaching influences are what make her art so transcendent.

Opener ‘Tongues Of Wild Boar’ is a foggy, captivating exploration of intense discomfort. From its scratchy dense opening, to its gentle blend of orchestral and electronic elements, it’s a intuitive track that scars and soothes in equal measure. “My body knows I can’t make it out” Woods muses on ‘Orange Tree’, tentatively trying to make peace with her physicality and her surroundings. This need to face her inner fears underscores the record, making it an unsettling, but liberating listen.

The tender ‘Through The Dark, Love’ feels like an intuitive guide through an ambiguous, tumultuous relationship, whilst the sparse instrumentation and the rhythmic humming on ‘Lay Bare’ is deeply comforting. The stretched out saxophone sounds, changing tempo and whispered lyrics on ‘Mud and Stones’ showcase the delicacy with which Woods crafts her songs. They all have a confessional, meditative nature, but her ability to switch from gentle to gritty within a few short seconds never fails to impress.

‘The Mouth’ is one of Birthmarks’ boldest tracks. A fleshy, twisted lullaby about personal hesitation, it’s a somber yet powerful listen, laced with melancholy strings, saxophone and distorted drone noises. The denseness of instrumental ‘Cleansing Ritual’ is unexpectedly soothing too. Its layers of drone noises and distortion could cauterize the deepest of wounds. The eerie, persistent tapping of one key alongside Woods’ hushed voice on ‘There Is No Moon’ could feel desolate, but instead it feels restles, as if she is keeping herself awake with the urgency of that repeated note.

Though quiet in terms of volume, Birthmarks is an abrasive, primal, charged offering that allows Woods the space to navigate uncertain emotional territory, highlighting her strength and resilience as an artist. Though fueled by uncertainty, it’s a carefully constructed record that provides space for healing and acceptance.

Pre-order Hilary Woods’ new album Birthmarks here (released 13th March via Sacred Bones)
Follow Hilary Woods on Facebook for more updates.

Photo Credit: Joshua Wright 

Kate Crudgington
@KCBobCut

LIVE: Hilary Woods – St Pancras Old Church, London 11.06.18

Bitter sweet and deeply affecting, Irish multi-instrumentalist Hilary Woods‘ performance at St. Pancras Old Church provided a startling insight into her darkly ethereal debut album Colt, released via Sacred Bones on 8th June.

Stood behind her keyboard, Woods performed solo for most of her set with only projected visuals and a violinist to accompany her on a handful of tracks. Her achingly pure voice floated gently across the heads of her congregation, who sat listening in attentive, respectful silence.

Woods’ solo work is far removed from the alternative 90s sounds she helped to create as a member of JJ72. She’s clearly invested a painstaking amount of time and energy in assembling her new album, and the two EPs – Night (2014) and Heartbox (2016) – that preceded it. Perhaps that’s why she was so nervous performing, something she didn’t admit until the penultimate track, but she had no legitimate grounds to be on edge. Her recent singles ‘Inhaler’, ‘Prodigal Dog’ and ‘Black Rainbow’ were all mesmerising, even in their stripped back states.

Footage from her recent videos played out across the back wall of the Church, as Woods performed beautiful renditions of ‘Take Him In’, ‘Kith’ and ‘Limbs’, the latter standing out due to Woods’ clear, measured vocal delivery. Switching between keys and guitar with eas, Woods’ performance style was quiet and introspective, but its impact was one of powerful, all encompassing melancholy.

Whilst Colt is an album about grief, loss and abandonment, we left St Pancras Old Church awash with raw and unexpected emotion, feeling like we’d gained rather than lost something from Woods’ performance.

Photo Credit: Joshua Wright

Kate Crudgington
@KCBobCut

ALBUM: Hilary Woods – ‘Colt’

A contemplative, carefully crafted record which schools listeners in how to come undone: Hilary Woods‘ debut album Colt is an exquisitely painful exploration of grief, separation, and abandonment. The Dublin-based artist signed to altruistic label Sacred Bones to release her first full-length record, and the partnership is one we wholly approve of.

Written and recorded at her home in Dublin, Colt was later mixed by and co-produced with James Kelly (WIFE, Altar of Plagues) in Berlin in the winter of 2017. The dynamics of the production and Woods’ layering of multiple elements – including piano, synth, tape machine, field recordings, vocals, and old string instruments – has culminated in a record which comfortably overlaps both the acoustic and electronic genres.

Opening track ‘Inhaler’ is a delicate example of this. It’s a pensive, melancholy song born from Woods’ struggle with homesickness. She explores her grief through tentative electronics and orchestral sounds, with her mysterious vocals floating calmly above. Following track ‘Prodigal Dog’ is a mesmeric examination of emotional claustrophobia: a disarming fusion of strings, understated synths, and hushed vocals.

There is a gentle urgency that permeates each of the eight tracks on Colt, and on ‘Take Him In’ Woods’ reflective lyrics and cautious keys instill this delicate unease further. Poetic track ‘Kith’ bleeds in after, with it’s divine, yet somber themes of “running on empty” in what feels like emotional purgatory. The persistent, steady beats and fluttering keys on the remarkable ‘Jesus Said’ mark a brief change in tempo on the record, as Woods laments a sincere disconnection and a search for absolution for almost six minutes. ‘Sever’ is equally as affecting with its heartbeat-like percussion, and more of Woods’ measured, poignant vocals.

Penultimate track ‘Black Rainbow’ though bleakly named, is an enchanting listen, and closing track ‘Limbs’ is a captivating collection of distant, alluring keys. Under all of the melancholy lurks a quiet power: a power that comes from being open and honest about genuine pain and how to deal with it.

To call Hilary Woods’ work on Colt siren-like is to do her a disservice; her music has a far wider, more disarming reach. Her emotional articulation and manipulation of sounds makes the record a dizzying but rewarding lesson, and we are grateful to have been allowed to endure this aural exploration of grief with her.

Colt is released via Sacred Bones on 8th June. Pre-order your copy here.
Hilary Woods headlines St Pancras Old Church on 11th June. Grab a ticket here.

Photo Credit: Joshua Wright

Kate Crugington
@KCBobCut

INTERVIEW: Hilary Woods

When news reached our ears that Dublin-based artist Hilary Woods had signed to Sacred Bones – a label which hosts our favourites Zola Jesus, Jenny Hval and The Soft Moon – our excitement for her debut album, Colt, gave us palpitations. Both Woods (a former member of JJ72) and Sacred Bones have a reputation for releasing altruistic sounds, so the pairing felt like a divine meeting of musical talent and opportunity.

Hyperbole aside, it’s clear from singles ‘Inhaler’ and ‘Prodigal Dog’ that Hilary Woods’ debut LP is going to be an exquisitely painful listen. Soaked in stark, minimalist, ambient electronic sounds that explore feelings surrounding grief and abandonment, her melancholic music is the perfect fit for venues like St. Pancras Old Church, which she headlines on 11th June (tickets available here).

We caught up with Woods to talk about her anticipations for this show, her multi-disciplinary creativity and what went into the making of her debut album…

Can you tell us a little bit about your recent single ‘Prodigal Dog’? What went into the making of this track, and why you chose to release it as a single?

I made the album without thinking of singles, pretty naïve really! But I think when ‘Prodigal Dog’ was suggested as a single it made sense. This was the first track I recorded in the record making process, bringing it to James we spent a lot of time on drum sounds and enjoyed layering vocals.

Your debut album has been described as “an intensely personal journey through grief, abandonment and mutating love”. How did you manage to translate these emotions into lyrics and music? Do you have a particular process when it comes to song-writing that you follow, or is it a more improvisational?

I’d say both, usually songs either arise after a lot of playing around and experimenting, or they just appear like a bolt. I think emotions and feeling are translated in any given process whether subconsciously or consciously.

You recently signed to Sacred Bones, who we love. What is it about the record label that drew you in? They’re on the ball when it comes to modern electronic music. Zola Jesus, Jenny Hval & The Soft Moon in particular are our favourites (and you of course)…

Thank you! I love their aesthetic, integrity and taste, that’s what drew me in, I’m a fan of many of my label mates.

You were a film, literature and fine-art student back in Dublin. Your music is intensely cinematic and your visuals are highly ornate: did studying a variety of subjects help you to develop your own sound and style easier than if you’d simply chosen to study one specific thing? Would you recommend a multi-disciplinary approach to other creatives?

I don’t know if I’d recommend anything! Everyone is on their own trajectory. In my case I was curious. I liked getting my hands dirty and the physicality of painting. Re studies: I went to college to get out of the house, literally. I needed some structure at that point in my life and I was lucky enough to be awarded some funding to go. It was all a bonus then to be super excited by what I encountered and be inspired by the material I was reading and seeing.

You described Colt as a way to “explore aloneness”, which is particularly poignant as many people use music to escape this feeling. What artists or bands do you listen to when you want to feel less alone?

Gosh, I think a good definition of a good film is one which makes you feel less alone, Music wise: I genuinely don’t have one specific answer to that, anything from Sybille Baier to Jlin to Father John Misty and beyond.

You have two upcoming London shows, St Pancras Old Church on June 11th and Southbank’s Meltdown Festival with Moon Duo on 20th June. What are you anticipating from these gigs?

I’m looking forward to them, they’ll be intimate and atmospheric.

Finally, you’ll be playing at The Sugar Club in Dublin on 14th September. It’s a hometown show, so are you anticipating something extra special from the night?

It’s always different playing at home, feels more vulnerable if anything. It’s a beautiful space with the best of promoters and a great PA and some good friends helping out. I have some plans for it, it’ll definitely be a special one for me.

Huge thanks to Hilary for answering our questions.
Colt is released via Sacred Bones on 8th June. Pre-order your copy here.

Photo Credit: Joshua Wright

Kate Crudgington
@KCBobCut