Richard J Birkin - Vigils (Reveal Records)

Neo-classical musician strikes gold on new solo disc

Released Mar 11th, 2016 via Reveal Records / By Allan Judkins
Richard J Birkin - Vigils (Reveal Records) Richard J Birkin – one of those Troy McClure kind of characters perhaps - you might remember him from Crash Of Rhinos, Grawl!x, Ephemetry, and a plentitude of other Midlands based artists. Solo album Vigils digs more into the realms of sound art and in-depth composition rather than a songwriter style angle, and it’s quite frankly struck gold. Inventive and intricate guitar and piano work take turns to lead the way while groundbreakingly atmospheric strings shimmer over the arrangements and characterise the sound to transform the music into the sonic wonder that it is.

Due to the title of the album, the intention was to live up to the name and stay awake all night while writing this review. Then after a night’s work, that idea was scrapped. After some sleep, the words to describe just how lovely and well orchestrated this record is still fail somehow. Most of this record is instrumental poetry; the word “most” is only used because there’s one track with vocals on (a nice twist), and that one track shines like a beauty. Moonbathing acts as the righteous centrepiece - it’s structurally and dynamically strong and is quite literally one of the most angelic songs heard in the last few years. The way the finger-picked guitar chords help voice the harmonised melodies in the vocals helps the song deliver its goose pimple qualities and really bring up those emotions.

Vigils only amounts to 35 minutes but is by all means an epic record nonetheless. Concisely epic. There are five vigils in total and the second of which is thoroughly haunting, without using that word lightly. Unexpected notes occur frequently, lifting an eyebrow and providing a general eerie mood. It’s the only string-less track and that plays a part in its stand out nature. Not entirely a solo-piece though, it does sound like there’s a typewriter or a camera shutter kicking off in the distance from the start. Almost like there’s an unknown figure in the room watching. Creepy? Yeah, let’s move on.

Birkin has harnessed the power of Iskra Strings on this record, responsible for some of The XX and Radiohead’s recordings. Melodically rich yet carefully applied, the section dip in and out and let the guitar and piano run the show in the majority of tunes, but especially the constantly changing A History Of Good Ghosts and Vigil IV respectively. To much delight, an overall reminiscence of post rock bands such as Yndi Halda and Thee Silver Mt. Zion is present in the more string-heavy arrangements, not too much but noticeably so. Non-aforementioned elements of timbre are used sparingly (other than the glockenspiel-led Night Sun) and so are effects. There’s some nice piano delay on ‘Accretions’ but what really helps this album shine is the warm reverb from the natural acoustics of the studio.

The selected cover artwork encapsulates the movement of the record in a quick release, close focus photograph of what looks like a droplet of water. This sums up Vigils nicely, minimal but with vast amounts of attention to detail. The lesser distractions whilst playing this record the better, although it’s recommended to take a walk in the outdoors during a dedicated listen and it will come to life even more.