Album Review: KT Tunstall – Invisible Empire // Crescent Moon

By on Thursday, 15th August 2013 at 12:00 pm
 

KT Tunstall Invisible Empire coverEarlier this summer, I reviewed Laura Marling’s new album, ‘Once I Was An Eagle’, which was, effectively, two separate albums folded into one release. KT Tunstall’s latest release, ‘Invisible Empire // Crescent Moon’, is a similar kind of collection: two sets of songs, each inspired by a significant event in Tunstall’s life. (In earlier interviews, Tunstall has stated these events to be the loss of her father and separation from her husband, Luke Bullen, who plays drums—notably—on only the first half of the album.) Just as Marling sought haven in America around the release of her album, Tunstall retreated to Arizona to record hers, finding inspiration in the desert for both the music and the album artwork.

Tunstall’s album is less experimental in nature than Marling’s, but it is pleasantly surprising in its own way. ‘Invisible Empire // Crescent Moon’ has a distinctly country kind of sound, which is unexpected, but in perfect keeping with the pensive, melancholic mood of the lyrics. Tunstall doesn’t lose her typical bluesy rock sound entirely, but rather flavors it with liberal inflections of traditional, old-fashioned country. The style suits the tone of her lyrics as well as the timbre of her voice, which sounds stunningly beautiful throughout the album. She deftly avoids the contrived effects that so many female singers rely on these days, instead keeping her singing light and flexible, without quite delving into the vocal gymnastics of her earlier work (‘Suddenly I See’, ‘Black Horse and the Cherry Tree’). The overall effect is soft and soothing, even when she explores the lower register of her voice, where many singers can become harsh and grating.

Instrumentally, many of the songs depend on acoustic guitar and pedal steel for their country twang, but the other sonic effects are more eclectic. Bowed string arrangements fill out what might otherwise be a sparse acoustic sound on ‘Old Man Song’ and ‘Crescent Moon’, while ‘Honeydew’ features wind and brass instruments employed to a remarkably delicate effect. First single ‘Feel It All’ has a sultry blues feel, with a slinky guitar riff and fluidly singable chorus. The album ends with the psychedelic guitars of ‘No Better Shoulder’.

Upcoming single ‘Invisible Empire’ doesn’t strike as an immediately strong opening track, but echoes of the chorus played back in my mind as I listened to the rest of the album. Its lyrical musings on the mutable nature of reality foreshadow the remainder of the record in a very subtle way. After it was all said and done (or played and sung), my mind kept wandering back to this track as the focal point of the album. The video for ‘Invisible Empire’ can be viewed below.

[youtube]http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ZUVh3x3-I-s[/youtube]

The regular version of ‘Invisible Empire // Crescent Moon’ contains 12 tracks plus the bonus ‘Feel It All—Band Jam’. The deluxe version includes three additional bonus tracks and a haunting cover of Don Henley’s ‘The Boys of Summer’, which by itself is worth the additional cost.

8.5/10

‘Invisible Empire // Crescent Moon’ is out now on Virgin Records. Tunstall’s next single, ‘Invisible Empire’, will be released on Monday (19 August).

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