Cinder Well makes an arresting return with fresh and formidable folk that bolsters multi-instrumentalist Amelia Baker’s distinctive melodies with a more heartened air.
Release date: April 21, 2023 | Free Dirt Records | Website | Facebook | Stream/Purchase
Amelia Baker’s musical project Cinder Well captured my undivided attention with her previous album. My review of 2020’s No Summer was wholly celebratory; I applauded Baker’s earnest songwriting, and the way in which she channelled her experiences and the throes of malaise in the midst of indisputable global turmoil into a record that was rife with wistful melodies, authentic guitar, and melancholic narratives of love and loss. Cadence is the personification and product of time spent since then between her home on the California coast and the more tumultuous climes of West Ireland. Understandably, it shares many corresponding elements with its predecessor, having been written soon after, but this latest outing carries itself in a way that – while still deep-seated in folkloric, earthen renditions – expands and evolves the tendency for subtle instrumentals with resounding success.
As a title, Cadence lends itself (and subsequently the songs as well) an openness to several definitions. Whether a reference to momentum, expression, or even notions of deterioration and resolution, all are represented here in some form or another across nine heartfelt tracks. Baker is a deft crafter of music that often inherits rich, darkened folk stylings, but this latest record inhabits a seemingly warmer space. The album art alone reflects this: No Summer portrayed Baker enveloped by branches and buildings in a grainy monochrome. Conversely, here we see a warm, soft palette of colour, giving life – and focus – to Baker herself rather than her surroundings, stood beside the freedom of open water. The music echoes this, referencing concepts of growth and transition, while emphasising Baker as, in the words of her Bandcamp, ‘a songwriter tied to the ebb and flow of the ocean (and humanity’s) currents, whether they be half a world away or a few steps from home’.
We recline into the soothing, deep guitar of opening track “Two Heads, Grey Mare”, regaling a narrative of a human who encounters a vision bearing resemblance to a selkie – an entity that ultimately returns to their watery home, leaving our character with more questions than answers. Inspired by a similar folk tale, Cinder Well has often proved a laudable outlet for the meshing of the musical and the mythical, and this makes for a wonderful start to our audible voyage. Further to my earlier point, even here it’s not long before a notable shift in demeanour is ushered in with the pertinent surfacing presence of percussion. No Summer was invigorated superbly and solitarily by Baker’s warbling voice and modest instrumental backing; it never felt lacking. However, the addition of drums scattered throughout Cadence even further emboldens her lilting vocals and rustic guitar work with a sense of certitude and vibrancy.
Just as the word cadence itself possesses versatility, so do the tracks across this musical namesake. Fluttering strings stir up the glowing passages of “Overgrown”, wherein Baker strolls through some of her most uplifting sonic territory to date. It’s immediately followed by the more robust, full-bodied “Returning”, and both are inimitably Cinder Well: from the lingering use of traditional folk components that infuse even the most plaintive songs with charisma and whimsy, to those moments of impassioned tremolo in Baker’s unmistakable, mellifluous voice. Cadence is awash with more variety in sound than ever, and yet retains every ounce of that signature magic, woven throughout every song here to bring cohesion to each step of our journey.
“Well on Fire” briefly sees the guitars bow out in favour of a stringed accompaniment to Baker’s emotive lyricism. It’s an appreciable point for the record, almost introspective in nature before the clean electric strums and softened percussion resurface to support more contemplative territory for “The Crow”. This number slumbers for a while before growing into prominence with the aid of harmonies and strings that – when coupled with “Gone the Holding” – lean heavily into the numerous examples of nautical, coastal ambience found across Cadence. The latter in particular makes yet more great use of that mirrored melodic dance you’ll regularly hear between Baker’s singing and the guitar.
It’s not been mentioned explicitly thus far, but the solitary vocals that begin “A Scorched Lament” are perhaps a key instance of an element employed so subtly yet so effectively on this latest Cinder Well album: silence. Listen carefully and, in places, the absence of sound and ceasing of momentum is incorporated in ways that are genuinely quite disarming. Sometimes it’s only momentary and repeat listens highlight it further, but it feels as though these seconds allow breathing space; they aren’t uncomfortable in any way, just an organic part of Baker’s process, much like the natural world intertwined on the album’s themes. At the end of it all, the hopeful, enduring croon of “I Will Close in the Moonlight” uses its uncharacteristic, sustained piano (and a complete lack of any other instrument) to really drive this home.
I have spoken at length about variety and change above, often in contrast to her previous album. The absolute pinnacle of this for me is the incredible titular track. “Cadence” feels a far cry from the closing track I just spoke of: it’s a slow-burning, brooding song drifting on the back of sonorous electric guitar that repeats its hypnotic progression beneath evocative strings. What’s more, Baker is less present for large portions of the song, yielding her vocals at points and allowing even herself to be overcome by impactful instrumentation that busily enchants the rest of us with its commanding presence and wandering layers. It is sincerely magical, and caught me rather off guard in the midst of all the acoustic tunefulness that surrounds it.
Cadence is a phenomenal return for Cinder Well. Amelia Baker has crafted yet another compelling chapter, one that is abundant with her undoubtable melodic charm and the nomadic, wistful instrumentals so fondly associated with her. This particular outing sees that captivating, terraceous sound enhanced with an increased depth and an appreciation for space and silence, which results in a record of unquestionable allure for those willing to indulge its magnificent cadence – in any and all senses of the word.