Scottish indie-folk trio Snows Of Yesteryear released their self-titled debut album on 4th August. It was recorded at Castlesound Studios with producer-engineer Mattie Foulds (Karine Polwart, Eliza Carthy, Kris Drever) and the sessions were interspersed with trips to glorious Gullane beach in East Lothian, the dramatic soundscape seeping into the album which reflects the beauty, darkness and danger of Scotland’s natural environment and its interaction with our lives. Snows of Yesteryear’s debut is intended to be listened to as an album rather than a collection of songs.
The opening track ‘Wait By The Shore’ establishes the central theme of Scotland’s natural environment and the impact of loss in shaping experience. The crystal clear vocals of Kat Orr are accompanied by the crisp guitar of David Mitchell and the hint of melancholy and drama provided by Yuuka Yamada-Garner’s violin. Inspired by generations of fishermen lost to coastal calamity, it is however not at all morose in its atmosphere, rather paints a picture, perhaps of hope. Orr further expands:
“We got into quite a dark place with the story behind this song. We imagined this missing young man lost to a fishing disaster. Or maybe he’s been lured into the rocks by a siren or maybe he’s fallen for someone else. In the face of all this mind-bending uncertainty, all you can do is wait. We used traditional and acoustic instruments which would have been available in the fictional fishing port of the song, with the shimmery reverb as the sound of the sea.”
‘Counting Stars’, is a meditation on grief further showcasing the quality of Orr’s voice. However, this is conveyed in the layering of the soundscape as a whole, which builds, as if intensifying the feelings of grief. Lyrically the repetition evokes this overall sense of loss.
‘Something Shatters’ is a change in tone, a folk-pop track inspired by Celtic culture’s idea of a ‘glen of shadows’ where the living and the dead co-exist. The violin here showcases a background in the classical tradition of Japan, which provides a level of emotion which tugs at the heartstrings. Orr shares that she is drawn to the Scottish Highlands admitting that “there is also a melancholy atmosphere echoing events of the past like the trauma of the Massacre of Glencoe or the Highland Clearances.”
The ballad ‘Bubbles Burst’ is influenced by the realisation that a relationship Orr was in was not working, but she was struggling to accept this. The pain is intensified by not wanting to inflict hurt on the other person. It’s cathartic in its expression, heartfelt and heartbreaking – intensely personal and intensely emotional for that very reason.
Snows of Yesteryear show their versatility on ‘Love Is Like A Snare‘, a jazz number with clarinet from Samuel De Silva (The Groovelvets) and trumpet from Bence Táborszky (Budapest Jazz Orchestra). The list of esteemed guests on this album continues on ‘Danny Waltz‘ which features celebrated cellist Su-a Lee. It provides a window into the restorative, redemptive potential of nature. The human condition can be one of wallowing in the mistakes of the past, overthinking and fretting when actually nature can help us find acceptance and move forward.
Another shift in gear is announced with the scuzzy rock of ‘Deer Across My Path’ which was written while Mitchell was on a solitary retreat. Again it shows the versatility of Snows of Yesteryear and yet retains the theme of merging nature and its impact. As he further explains:
“I wrote this while on a solitary retreat outside Hawick in the Scottish Borders. I’d planned to be alone and without any electricity or modern technology for ten days. As I was being driven to the cabin a deer jumped across the road, and the driver told me he thought it was a good luck sign. That was the inspiration for the song; returning to nature. We made lots of different demos of this and had settled on a slow, lumbering sound with echoing guitars, like our attempt at Fleetwood Mac’s ‘Albatross’. But in the studio, we found a new energy, and when we combined the heavier guitars with the pop pacing it was more like Weezer or Teenage Fanclub, bands we also love.”
‘Last Thing You Remember’, is a wake-up call to not let fear hold you back. The haunting keyboard opening and the accompanying passionate vocal is a reminder that life is short and there is a world to be experienced and explored. The edgy raw guitar towards the end gives a hint of possibility. This is followed by the beautiful ‘Miles Away’, which dances along, the keyboard and violin combining to stunning effect. The vocal layers are simply soaring and glorious.
“This is about wishing you could take away someone else’s hurt and anguish. It’s also a letter to my younger self. If I had a time machine, Back To The Future-style, I would leave myself a letter explaining how things are not always going to feel this hard. The outro is about that connection with the sea and how it can rejuvenate and cleanse. I can understand why the religious symbolism of submersion in water is so compelling; emergence really does feel like a fresh start,” explains Orr.
The album closes with ‘Rest And Be Thankful’ and celebrates the majestic viewpoint along Scotland’s A83 but expands on this notion of taking a moment to stop and find gratitude for what we have. Halfway through the track it seems to end, however, listen on as the guitar and violin are again given space to express themselves; a fitting end to the album. Mitchell expands on ‘Rest and Be Thankful‘:
“This is named after the point along the A83 which offers breathtaking views of the surrounding hills, valleys and lochs. Back in the 18th century when it was a military path, soldiers inscribed the words onto a stone to encourage travellers to stop and enjoy the view. I’d always liked the phrase and felt it was generally good life advice. It’s the only song with just the three of us playing one instrument each, and it felt like a nice way to round off the album, to encourage people to rest after the intense musical journey they’d been on, and appreciate everything they have.”
To learn there is a tour planned of coastal venues and places with specific meaning to the band seems highly appropriate. Snows of Yesteryear have produced a debut album with such depth and connection with their environment, yet it speaks to us all with its universal themes. Simply, this body of work evidences the talent of this trio beautifully.