A very few records exist that one can describe as “magical” – a very dangerous, double-edged attribute when it comes to music and art, as it can entail the deepest probing of the unconscious as well as the most kitsch, awkward expressions one can think of.
The magic in Circuit, Rowan Coupland’s latest output, lies in a very subtle worldbuilding, a gentle transfiguration of reality, reached by elusive, meandering songs, and, as always, a winsome, deceptive naiveté of expression. For those who don’t know him, Rowan was a member of Brighton’s Wilkommen Collective and is now based in Berlin.
His latest album sometimes sounds as a child’s dream, where paper mountains look towering and majestic, and a fake moon is as big as half the sky (‘Puzzle Pieces’, ‘Opening’). Rowan’s songwriting is impressionistic and highly evocative, as if his fingerpicking was aimed at reconstructing a feeling, a scene, instead of a melody sounding in one’s head. Scenes and feelings that often deeply resonate with one’s own experience, and (also because of Coupland’s peculiar style) one feels as if the wind was secretly speaking in one’s ear.
Here, this feeling is magnified by a plethora of additional arrangements (piano, strings,horns), very sparsely intervening with Rowan’s two voices: his own and his instrument’s. The latter does represent a voice in itself, due to the variety of instruments he uses (Celtic lap harp, besides nylon-stringed acoustic guitar) and the variety of techniques he implements in the songs (strumming his harp in ‘Riding’, for instance).
This multiple proficiency with instruments allows him to navigate through different styles, from hieratic, Nico Muhly/Sam Amidon folk (‘Opening’, ‘Circuit’, best tracks ‘Irises’ and ‘Muscle Memory’), to his congenial, pastoral Wilkommen-style storytelling (‘A Silhouette’), with excursions into poppier territories (the bossanova touch of ‘Bubblegum’). Sometimes, he’ll even sound like Roy Harper’s sadly ironic, younger brother (‘Cycling To Your House’).
Such songwriting depth is coupled, this time, with a perhaps stronger confidence and a more definite sound concept. Rowan’s characteristic, breezy and volatile poetry is still there, but you don’t feel like listening to something overheard, as in previous occasions. All his aesthetics feel now permanently fixated in songs that demand (and deserve) great attention, and this is Circuit’s great accomplishment: so far it’s Rowan’s best work.
Words: Lorenzo Righetto (Twitter)