Wicklow-based ‘Woodlark’ are back with their dark and ever-so-slightly Gothic brand of murderous folk. With previous release “Cross My Heart (And Hope To Die)” we saw the group delve into twisted balladry coupled with some eerie spoken word, all while maintaining a very ‘Celtic’ and Irish feel. Their new single, “The Skeleton Tree” picks up where that EP left off with the same instrumental dynamic in play. Simplicity is key here and the band do a good job of setting the atmosphere with a steady guitar and violin accompanying singer Kate Gisbourne’s breathy delivery. Gone are the multi-tracked vocals of earlier songs like “Godspeed” but in their place is a more focused storytelling.
The lyrics are pushed to the forefront here with Gisbourne relaying to us a tale of a tree filled with hanging men, bare branches, causing horses to balk. The scene is well set with descriptions of the land surrounding the tree being devoid of any life and the ghostly presence that lurks in the shadows. I do feel however that the lyrics here border on being slightly cliched, especially in the areas surrounding the description of the tree itself but for the most part they are suitable. We learn that the character of this story has lost a lover to the branches of the Skeleton Tree, something that drives them in the end to seek reunion by joining them on the tree, giving it the feel of a classic folklore myth or story.
Woodlark have clearly grown the last two years in their ability to tell and properly pace a story, a real strong point on this song. I will say however that some of the vocal and instrumental melodies found on their last release such as “Devil to the Weather” carried more energy and personality than the one presented to us here. That’s not to say I didn’t enjoy Gisbourne’s performance on this track, the moments where she reaches for the higher notes with a certain choppy quality to them (at the end of each verse) save the song from any type of monotony.
Overall this song’s strengths are its focused and very effective story and atmosphere, while its weaknesses (though not glaring by any means) are found at times in its simplicity and performance. I definitely would consider this a good release and by no means a mis-step for the group but I do feel that the song would have benefited from some added fire, all across the board.