REVIEW: Watchfires – Ribbons & Shards

One reason why I am so obsessed with music, always consuming more, is because of the power it has to inspire emotion within you. It can transport you to different times and places, remind you of sights and even smells, and completely change your mood. It’s a dark art to make happy music that isn’t lame, isn’t cheesy, isn’t trite and doesn’t rot your teeth. Invoking joy without turning off the majority of your audience is difficult. Which brings me to Watchfires, an Aberdeen collective who have one thing that so many bands these days lack – a big, soppy, wet, beating heart at the centre of their music. Play with some fire in your belly and it can overcome any obstacle – in Watchfires’ case, there’s no real innovation on show on Ribbons & Shards; but in truth, that doesn’t even count as an obstacle. This is an album of ruthless economy, built for stadiums, streamlined and sleek; all 12 songs blow by in just over 40 minutes. ‘Vices’ and ‘The Gale That Roars’ each stop dead after under two, having achieved all they need to in that time. Not to say their sound isn’t interesting, as an array of influences are on show here. The turn of the millennium post-hardcore boom can be heard in the dynamics and emotion, but without the self-pity; there are hints of U2, a touch of fellow Scots Idlewild. Every chorus is an anthem, every guitar line glistens with melody, every hook is belted out from the top of a mountain. Ribbons & Shards is euphoria from front to back. Vocalist Ewan MacDonald has a gift for strong imagery too – on ‘Gilmorehill,’ one of the standouts, it kicks off with the lyric: ‘In a bright west end cathedral we watched the crowning of a king.’ Instantly your attention is seized; it’s a trick he repeats, loading every lyric with armour and youth and starry-eyed adventure.

And just when you think guitar interplay doesn’t get better than the breakdown of ‘We’re Not Afraid Of Ghosts,’ ‘All That Glitters’ supercedes it a mere two songs later.

Ribbons & Shards is music with a pulse, music that is bursting with the sheer delight at making music. You can tell that every note from start to finish was played with absolute conviction. It’s an album with a smile on its face – but a genuine, welcoming one, not a sarcastic, knowing one. Ultimately, Ribbons & Shards is the kind of album that, with a wider audience, would inspire teenage longhairs to pick up a guitar and write their first song. And for that alone – not to even mention its lyrics, riffs, choruses and soul – it deserves all the praise in the world.

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