The debut, self-titled album from the Irish band Rufus Coates & The Blackened Trees sounds nothing like the first work of some newcomers in the commercial music industry. It is well thought out both in form and in content; was fantastically performed by self-assured musicians; and, most importantly, does not try to win your appreciation by brute force, being capped in a balanced number of just 10 tracks.
Perhaps the latter was more than just a choice, but a necessity. As the Blackened Trees of the name and the solitude represented on the cover, this album is not ashamed of its melancholy tone. Songs like ‘Watch it all Fall Down’ and the heartfelt ‘Not That Easy’ make it obvious in their very own titles, but the soreness and ineptitude and, well, blackness of the band is felt scattered through the whole experience.
In ‘Safe for Now’, for example, they start by saying “another melancholy night / as the rain pours down it distorts the lights” and end up reminding us that the end is impossible to avoid, no matter what covers you take from the upcoming wave. Note that in the opening track, ‘Here All Day’, they had already established the Buddhist premise that life is unbearable (“I told you’d have to wait / here all day, here all day”).
So the only thing that prevents the listener from falling into despair thinking of their own mortality is the strangely soothing harmony created by the singers’ voices. Rufus Coates and Jess Smith would not be the first pick to be a duo in the school choir, but in this environment, in this strange pit where folk and blues never meet yet are the same thing, they fit perfectly. He is the devil’s voice in your head; she: the other devil.
One thing is undeniable, though: Rufus Coates & The Blackened Trees is a moving album. Not all pieces of art have this power. Upon listening to it, no matter what your psychological state is or how the weather looks like outside, you find yourself being transported somewhere where there’s a forest made of decomposing foliage. Which is not necessarily a bad trip; one good way to see it is facing the journey like an internal one, a revision of your own soul.
Unless your take on this is influenced by what Rufus and Jess sing in the great ‘Footpaths of Shame’: “Darkness forms, everybody knows / it’s all downhill from here.” Then, my friend, best of luck to you on finding your way back.