ALBUM: Hilary Woods – ‘Birthmarks’

Both an aural purge of insecurities and a powerful exploration of self-autonomy; Hilary Woods‘ second album Birthmarks is darker and sharper in sound compared to her debut album, Colt. Set for release on 13th March via Sacred Bones, the Irish musician has collaborated with Norwegian experimental noise producer & filmmaker Lasse Marhaug, and together they’ve crafted a new set of cohesive, shadowy soundscapes that smolder with quiet intensity.

Written & 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 primal, intuitive track that scars and soothes in equal measure. “My body knows I can’t make it out” Woods sings 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 genuinely 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’ feels intensely comforting. Woods’ songs have a confessional, meditative nature; ranging from gentle to gritty all within a few short seconds. ‘Mud and Stones’ is much like this; with its stretched out saxophone sounds, changing tempo, and whispered lyrics.

‘The Mouth’ is one of the boldest tracks on the album. A fleshy, twisted lullaby about personal hesitation; it’s a somber yet powerful listen, laced with melancholy strings, saxophone, and distorted drone noises. Though fueled by uncertainty, it’s a carefully constructed song that provides space for healing and acceptance. The denseness of ‘Cleansing Ritual’ is unexpectedly soothing too. Purely instrumental, 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 restless; 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 emotional territories, and proves her strength and resilience as an artist.

Pre-order Hilary Woods’ new album Birthmarks here (released 13th March via Sacred Bones)
Follow her 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; Hilary Woods‘ performance at St. Pancras Old Church provided a startling new insight in to the multi-instrumentalist’s debut record 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 crystal clear 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 that preceded it: Night (2014) and Heartbox (2016). Perhaps that’s why she was so nervous performing – something she didn’t admit until the penultimate track – but she had no grounds to be on edge, as 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 stunning renditions of Colt tracks ‘Take Him In’, ‘Kith’ and ‘Limbs’ – with the latter standing out due to Woods’ clear, measured vocal delivery. Switching between keys and guitar with ease for specific songs, 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 (and that’s not just because we bought Colt on vinyl).

Support came from Ben Vine, whose piercing saxophone sounds and loops were an immersive experience not suited to all tastes; but his performance was one you won’t forget in a hurry.

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 (formerly a 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 exquisite, but painful listen. Soaked in stark, minimalist, ambient electronic sounds that explore feelings surrounding grief & 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 the artist to talk about her anticipations for this show, her multi-disciplinary creativity, and what went in to the making of her debut album…

Hello Hilary! You’ve released your latest single ‘Prodigal Dog’ from your upcoming album Colt. Can you tell us a little bit about what went in to 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 in to lyrics and music? Do you have a particular process when it comes to song-writing that you follow, or is it a more chaotic affair?

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 to release your debut album. What is it about the record label in particular 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