Umbilica released their album ‘Where the Land Meets the Ocean’ in September 2019 with an ace performance at Dubrek Studios where Jo Lewis performed wonderfully in the intimate setting, complete with full audience performing backing vocals and harmonies on ‘Easy’ which can be found on this release. Quite a profound little night with good people.
The album itself is an under-rated gem and definitely needs more light shining upon it, as it is absolute perfection from start to finish. Jo is an extremely competent guitarist and vocalist, and it’s beautiful to hear so much of both taking centre stage throughout the whole album.
The opening track that gives the album its name lays down the initial feel for the vocals which is a blend of nineties Indie-Chill from Morcheeba blended smoothly with an older Delta Blues turn to it. This is carried throughout the album, with occasional flecks of the South East with intentional dropped t’s in later tracks ‘Home, Right Before It Crumbled’ and ‘Muses Blue’, which remind me of the cheeky deliveries that Skin sometimes brings out. The Music builds steadily, taking the familiar that has already been delivered and then building additional layers until it’s an epic wall akin to the more progressive pieces by Bernard Butler, moving from the soft ocean opening to full band, harmonies and small choir.
The guitar tone choice shows absolute clarity in their fingerpicking and strumming, no unnecessarily dirt on the tone at all, and start to finish it has all been beautifully mixed. The second track ‘Lovers’ has subtle reverb that pushes through on the more dynamic vocals.
Two tracks in and it’s already a journey. The clock may say it has been nine minutes but it feels like it has been twenty in the most wonderfully good way you could imagine before track three brings it all back down to earth like a warm hug and a cup of coffee and the most excellent use of space and silence amongst the vocal and piano.
The whole album has got this beautiful sensual vibe to it, and Jo’s voice and the absolute unquestionable skill they have to bend sound by controlling their head, mouth shape and body is both powerful and disarming all at the same time, and in my opinion probably the best voice for this style and genre without peer (and I am happily raising them up alongside Kelis, Erykah Badu, Bobby Gentry, Skye Edwards, Macy Grey, Emma Ruth Rundle, David McAlmont, and Imogen Heap in that assessment).
Stands out tracks for me are live favourites ‘Butterfly’ for its groove and ‘Poison Pen Letter’ for the sickening skill present to play and sing its complexities in a live setting without any worries. The meter decisions for the vocals are completely wondrous. The vocal doubling on ‘Muses Blue’ is an impressive touch to break up delivery midway through the album, and matches perfectly with the flowing piano work akin to Imogen Heap’s early work and B-sides, or Emilie Autumn’s ‘Shalott’. The string work on ‘Home, Right Before It Crumbles’ is gorgeous and gives it an edge of Steve Wilson.
Closer ‘Nowhere Feels Like Home’ is a stripped-down beauteous track of acoustic guitar and vocals following a predictable structure without even hinting at cliché. There are so many highlights to this album and despite drawing so many comparative references it is an utterly disarming, completely original collection. Come the final track, you’ll be gently dragged into the undertow and turned around to the opening track in a seamless segue to listen to it all again. Give it a listen, buy it. Go see Umbilica live.
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