‘Fabric of a Flawed Society' by Liam Vincent and The Odd FoxesReview
I obtained my high regard for & enjoyment of the work of Liam Vincent and The Odd Foxes only last year: I started by listening to their violinist/vocalist Rebecca Mileham's excellent solo ‘Underground' EP which in turn led me to the band's "Watching You" single (both reviewed in this magazine) and so I have been following their recording progress with both interest & anticipation and am delighted to forewarn you of the release of their debut album ‘Fabric of a Flawed Society' (and the title is a pretty good descriptor of what lies within) on 5th May. I am greatly privileged to have heard it some six or seven weeks before you can, but I hope my enthusiasm for it will persuade you in advance to give it a listen (and even better hear them playing it live) and consider purchasing it. Mind you, I'm not the first to hear or comment upon it: Stuart Green of Folk Club Radio has beaten me to it, calling it "..a brilliant debut album, full of power, passion and something to say. This is definitely a band to keep an eye on."
The band (the eponymous Liam Vincent on guitar & vocals (aka Liam Stuchbury), the previously mentioned Rebecca Mileham on violin & vocals, Gregg Cave ,who plays electric guitar, bassist/vocalist Matt Berry and drummer Paul Disley) re joined by their guests including PJ Wright (slide guitar) of TRADarr, Little Johnny England (guitar), and Guy Fletcher (mandolin), with Mark Stevens, (Marc Almond, Annie Lennox, Busted and Bananarama etc) producing and engineering.
The tracks are the aforementioned "Watching You" plus "Rise Up", "Vanity Project", "First Blood", "Friday Song", "Paper Snake", "Sunday Song", "The Rush", "Race To The Bottom", "Time To Go Home" and "Ribbons" and as noted in my previous review, there are a multiplicity of agendas going on here: ones which work together exceedingly well, complementing & amplifying each other to the point where any attempt to distinguish between a chicken & an egg is futile. They clearly want you to get up: both to dance very vigorously but also to be counted on various social issues. The latter, however worthy, can often tend towards the solemn & righteous, so the passion of the music elevates that aspect, while the sense of purpose if not outright anger fuels the heart & power of the songs. This is a band which self identifies as "..a collective of ideas, dreams and social conscience.." and listening to them, you'll probably feel like dancing until the music stops & then going straight off & using the dynamics of your high to help put something right.
One issue that might include is illustrated by Liam's explanation of the group's name: "..I grew up in a small rural village where fox hunting was a regular thing. When I was old enough to understand it and started to question it, I was told that ‘they only ever kill the odd fox or two'. That stuck with me…" Now whoever said that to him may just be facing the consequences of expressing themselves in that way as Liam takes aim.
Since I declared my own interest last time by seeing parallels to bands I greatly admired such as The Pogues, The Men They Couldn't Hang or The Levellers, you can hardly not expect me to like the Odd Foxes. However I hope that you won't simply take this review as a personal expression of preferences, as I believe that at ‘Hot Music Live', we try to shine a spotlight on local music of true excellence: not only in performance but also music with originality, heart & honest purpose. Not for us the blandishments of formula nor lack of emotional commitment, neither of which can be applied to these artists.
Under such circumstances, I imagine that it was inevitable that the band had to create a song called "Rise Up" (a potential future single) which seems to draw on Ukrainian folk music as an inspiration while Rebecca's prominent playing very much recalls the style of Scarlet Rivera (again, possibly very deliberately given the protest aspects involved).
Anger can certainly be expressed as bitterness, especially if those experiencing it cannot think of how to act to remedy the situation. Bitter songs are alright in small doses, but do not make for whole albums if you aspire to people playing them often. Fortunately the anger of the Odd Foxes is channelled & mitigated both by potential solutions & sense of optimism that they could work ("Rise Up", "Paper Snake" etc assume victory as spoken for and they speak of "..aiming for songs that expressed both anger and hope in a fractured world..") : so you get a joyous album about unpleasant things: and paradoxes produce their own power as well as catching the attention.
Some targets are really broad, others, like "Vanity Project" leave little doubt as to the specificity (we even get statistics) of what's in their sights. Others, like "First Blood", with its mournful arrangement including the evocation of funereal bells manage to set moods for the message to sit within & hence approach the subject via verbal & non-verbal trajectories.
We even have a diptych embedded into the album: "Friday Song" and "Sunday Song" presumably are intended to complement each other, though their sounds differ quite a bit. In an album which pulls absolutely no punches whatsoever, these two may be the benchmark, dividing the many targets up between them (and they are large targets as well as several in number) and not wasting a line as each is skewered with the accuracy & precision with which the great polemic lyricists of the punk era, Joe Strummer, Paul Weller or Billy Bragg write: no ambiguity here yet images raised in our minds through poetic approaches rather than clichéd rhetoric, so each point hits that much harder & sharper.
The use of two lead vocalists not only allows for a variety of sound which always helps collections of this length, but as Liam & Rebecca have such different approaches to singing (gender is merely one distinction), you get different types of song. Liam seems very much to be the vocalist of choice for the out & out polemics while Rebecca, using a voice much closer to "traditional folk", sells her narratives through more oblique methods: including irony or singing "against" the mood of the lyrics to create tensions: for example on "The Rush". It's interesting how, in contrast to most of his vocals on the album, Liam adopts this device too on the surface-jaunty "Race To The Bottom".
On an album of rage, it is of course a tender ballad (at least I honestly could not detect anything political on it) in the form of "Time To Go Home" which stands out like a sore thumb. Maybe they just couldn't omit it due to its obvious qualities, or maybe they felt that it offered a necessary balm after so many rawer emotions, but in any event, you will enjoy it, even it is startles you with its chance of mood.
Throughout ‘Fabric of a Flawed Society' there are frequent outbreaks of traditional folk music, though the vast majority of moments then evolve into rockier styles. "Ribbons", the album closer, is the one which stays closest to the genre for its full length & which offers us a contemporary narrative in the style of the many from the folk canon.
This is an album I'm sure the band is very proud at having created: they certainly ought to be. Not a weak track on there, and any band who can create this many original songs each of which stimulates the mind, the heart & the feet is thoroughly deserving of success. One of my favourites of 2023 already.
If you'd like to catch the Odd Foxes live, they will launch the album at Roman Way Brewery Northampton, and at HMV Banbury, on the weekend of 5/6 May 2023. They also have festival bookings including the New Forest Folk Festival in July 2023, and The Brasenose Fringe in August 2023.