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FOLK RADIO UK review written by David Pratt

It is hard to imagine that there will be a better debut album this year than The Impossible Wild from The Last Inklings. The release, in 2020, of their Alchemy EP certainly gave every indication as to the obvious talent and creativity of David Hoyland and Leonardo MacKenzie, the duo trading under the name which references the mid-20th century literary group which originally met in C.S. Lewis’s room at Magdalen College, Oxford and included other luminaries such as Roger Lancelyn Green and Tolkien. Still, this full-length offering far exceeds any expectations that were harboured in this household.

Leonardo, a classically trained cellist, and David, initially a percussionist,were two-thirds of Kadia, a much-lauded trio performing traditional and original folk-influenced music with three-part harmonies.  Both musicians, however, are deft multi-instrumentalists, and whilst their sound is firmly based on Leonardo’s cello and David’s mandolin alongside their glorious vocal harmonies, the soundscape is expanded with the addition of violin and piano from the former, whilst the latter also contributes percussion, guitar and synths. The resulting unique sound is groundbreaking, as genre boundaries and labels are crossed, also reflecting their musical influences, acknowledged as including The Moulettes, Grammy Award winners Punch Brothers and Max Richter, in addition to the traditional songs and tunes of the British Isles.

At its core, The Impossible Wild explores the role of nature, myth and superstition in the modern age whilst the exploration of issues such as mental health, personal well-being and growth, and the human impact on the environment offer fresh perspectives on an oft-troubled world. As might be expected given the literary link outlined above, storytelling is celebrated to the full, with abundant imagery in thoughtful narrative lyrics to the fore in the quest to probe what it is to be human.

The brief string-led instrumental opening track, White Rabbits, acts as an amuse-bouche before the upbeat melody and close harmony of the first single,Hunter’s Folly, with its gloriously catchy refrain and deft changes of pace reflecting, initially, the drowsy summer heat and then the chase, assails the senses. Turning the traditional English song Hunting The Hare around, here the hares, although chased, escape unharmed, and as the artistic stop-frame video accompanying the song, premiered on Folk Radio,depicts so graphically, remain blissfully ignorant of the fate of the hunter, who transformed into a hare, succumbs to a gruesome ending at the teeth of his own hound.  

Melancholic cello and strings feature in Sleeping Giant, a song which, as an extended metaphor, explores the themes of depression and mental health,at the same time could also be construed as alluding to the perilous state ofthe environment. The light mandolin motif, which contrasts the lyrics, is used as a clever musical metaphor, hinting at the pretence often used to disguise our insecurities.  Released as the second single, the accompanying video is the second part of the interlinked trilogy, which, whilst stand-alone in their own right, can also be viewed as a short film.

Concern for the environment defines Breathe Easy, a song that clearly warns of the perils faced by the natural world due to our poor stewardship.Again, the pastoral feel to elements of the music, suggested in part by the plucked harp-like figures over bucolic strings, belies the foreboding of the subject matter. The theme of the decline of the natural world is also addressed later in the album on Chasing Fireflies, with its image of a possible dystopian future.

The punning inherent in the title of Phantomfoolery masks another dark, unsettling offering. Icy chills and hauntings, be they of aspiritual nature or possibly a haunting of thoughts in a well-being sense, are suggested by the lyrics and the building layers of swirling strings, mandolin,cello and synths, but in particular the ghostly vocal.

Remedy, a song resulting from reflections on a car crash, has a different feel to other tracks, beginning with a drum beat, building with mandolin, percussion and vocals before ending with overlaying guitars and strings, before the brief instrumental interlude of Call to Adventure, inspired by the first stage of the first Act in Joseph Cambell’s Hero’s Journey. The second act of this monomyth informs  A Thousand Faces, another song referencing mental health, specifically that often we can be our biggest stumbling block.This mountain in my pathWas built insidemy head.

With its homage to the theory of relativity, “if time’s elasticthen why can’t I go back”, Dear Future (if you’re listening) is an entreaty, written in the style of a letter to those generations following us,to not repeat our mistakes. The weaving of short, repeated melodic phrases from mandolin and cello under a placid vocal create an ethereal atmosphere beforethe intensity of the cello increases.

The shadowy strings which act as the fulcrum for The Unkindness of Ravens provide background to lyrics that make a plea to respect nature, myths, talesand legends to gain better self-awareness and understanding, as the barely perceptible whispered counting evokes an eerie, supernatural world, before, all too soon, the album reaches its final track.

Vespers,
the third single, again accompanied by a video featuring character design and creation provided by artist and model maker friend Lou Vickery,is a Stygian, otherworldly waltz.  Lyrically, to not overstay your welcome in the twilight shadows may once again reference mental health issues, but couched in the optimism that just as dusk passes, so may these concerns. The subtlety of the instrumentation is, as throughout the album, sublime. When the final echoing whistles fade away, I’m left wondering if there’s a subtle, possibly tongue in cheek, Ennio Morricone reference.

The accompanying artwork and sleeve notes succeed admirably in enhancing what is a very professional package. There is so much more beyond the music to admire, be it the fascinating symmetry of the cover photo or, for those with an interest in the mathematics of nature, the thrill of references aplenty to befound, including Fibonacci sequences and Golden Ratios.

Although a single airing will provide great enjoyment, a willingness to invest time in much deeper and attentive listens will pay handsome rewards. With The Impossible Wild, The Last Inklings have shown that they are envelope-pushing visionaries.
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