Anyone watching The Folk Ups’ relentless progress over the last year will know that Ryan Harling and Jasmine Kelly have been playing live pretty much non-stop, culminating in a triumphant Clockenflap appearance, and performance for Live@YP. The six tracks on this self-titled debut will be welcomed by those wondering what the duo’s music would sound like with a little extra production and polish.
Tooting harmonica and chugging guitar signal the arrival of How Long, which, like everything else The Folk Ups does, is tinged with intangible melancholia and wistfulness for another time, place, or person.
Red in the Sky is the pinnacle of their achievements: a spine-tinglingly sinister slice of gothic Americana straight out of Johnny Cash’s playbook. Add slow exhalations of YMCA of Hong Kong Christian College classmate Samantha Tsang’s haunting violin and chilling murder confessional is complete.
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With barely audible background chatter, the band recreates the hustle and bustle of their live show on the sweetly wrought My Darling Girl. Ryan’s sincere baritone, which is sometimes shaky live, is steadied on record, bouncing off Jasmine’s Norah Jones-esque soulfulness in a lovestruck call-and-response. This effect is best-heard via the soft indie-folk of Tempest, a jaunty campfire ditty of clattering tambourine and a “wah-oh” vocal hook.
The Snake Charmer ambles along on a sort of country-gospel path, before picking up speed and blossoming into a divine oasis of uplifting chorus, and biblical metaphor. The heavy imagery continues on Footprints, a languorous nod to their love of the beach, and somnambulant sign-off.
The best way to experience the magical chemistry of The Folk Ups’ music will always be seeing them live, but this debut is a bottle of sweet sunshine just waiting to be uncorked.