Review: Musk Ox - Woodfall (2014)


artist: Musk Ox
release: Wood­fall
format: CD, Digital
year of release: 2014
label: Self-released
dur­a­tion: 65:59

Nath­anaël Larochette’s Musk Ox is now a trio, and with the new album Wood­fall, the music has evolved to fully fledged cham­ber folk. Larochette’s clas­sical gui­tar works in uni­son with the violin and cello parts added by Evan Runge & Raphael Weinroth-Browne, the lat­ter of whom also co-composed the album. The res­ult is a suite tak­ing parts from both clas­sical music and the acous­tic romantic neo­folk from the mid-nineties and later.

The first couple of tracks (“Earth­rise”, “Windswept”) keep a high tempo, with all instru­ments swirl­ing around a cent­ral rhythm. In keep­ing with the project’s wil­der­ness aes­thetic, the com­pos­i­tions con­jure up leaves in autumn winds, the weight of impend­ing win­ter. It took me a while to get used to the dens­ity of the music, which is some­what higher than other artists oper­at­ing in this area, and def­in­itely more so than Musk Ox’s debut from 2007. After twenty minutes or so, though, you def­in­itely get into the flow, and real­ise that Larochette and Weinroth-Browne are pretty far ahead of the rest in terms of detailed com­pos­i­tion and arrange­ment, and they aren’t afraid to show it on this album. Dur­ing the third track “Arcanum”, the music rises above the groun­ded themes of the first half, the focus shift­ing from earth to the heav­ens. “Above the Clouds” is an upbeat piece full of won­der, and the final move­ment, “Ser­en­ade the Con­stel­la­tions” is lovely and calm, a celes­tial coda to the rest of the album.

With Wood­fall, Musk Ox takes a determ­ined step into not-so-easy-listening ter­rit­ory. If I had to com­pare it to any­thing, it would be Michael Cash­more’s instru­mental works from around the turn of the mil­len­nium: just as mel­an­cholic and nat­ural, but more ener­getic. Unlike many instru­mental neo­folk works, a genre of dwind­ling interest to me for years now, this music is not con­tent to linger in the back­ground. It is bold and demands atten­tion to become more than just a swirl of notes. How­ever, with attun­e­ment to this music comes an appre­ci­ation of its beauty and skil­ful­ness, both of which are great.

Reviewed by O.S.

Track­list:

1. Part 1 - Earth­rise (9:24)
2. Part 2 - Windswept (10:44)
3. Part 3 - Arcanum (17:36)
4. Part 4 - Above the Clouds (10:29)
5. Part 5 - Ser­en­ade the Con­stel­la­tions (17:47)