BLIND TASTE TEST: Kathryn Joseph – From When I Wake The Want Is


So James, there are so many places where our musical tastes differ that, over time, I think I’m finding it easier to identify the places where they meet. I’m almost (almost) confident that I might have finally thought of a Blind Taste Test you could fully get on board with. Maybe.

When I think of a few artists we have agreed on recently, I notice a pattern. Anna B Savage. Aldous Harding. Keeley Forsyth. They’re all artists that exist on the edges of a few genres, who are just oddball enough to not be pigeonholed into any.

Just like Kathryn Joseph. That’s not to say that she sounds like any of those artists. Kathryn Joseph only sounds like herself. But she is definitely oddball, undoubtedly fascinating, and she writes hauntingly ethereal songs that I think you’ll get a kick out of.

From When I Wake The Want Is is one of those albums that needs to exist as a whole, so I won’t get into individual songs. I’ll just ask that you listen to this in a quiet moment, with headphones, when distractions will be minimal. Because otherwise its magic could pass you by.

Cheers, Fran

We’ve come pretty close a couple of times now Fran and it feels like this has given you a new confidence in your intro to this Blind Taste Test. And I feel it too. Could this be the one? Let’s press play and find out. I remember you recommended I use headphones but I’m sat down with a cup of tea now and have got comfortable so speakers it is.

‘IIII’ starts almost imperceptibly quietly – I’m going to have to go back another time to dig into the whispered lyrics. It doesn’t take long for the music proper to kick in though, and I’m liking the vibe of the piano here. And the bass is surprisingly big. It’s like Massive Attack – not that this is trip-hoppy so far.

The stirring piano continues on title track ‘From When I Wake the Want Is’. Am I doing this right? I mean you’ve asked me to listen to this as a whole but it’s quite difficult to write a Blind Taste Test without taking it song by song. Oh well.

I’m getting hints of influences from all over – Kate Bush, Regina Spektor, Joanna Newsom, Beth Gibbons – particularly in the vocals. These ideas carry me through ‘And You Survived’ and ‘Tell My Lover’ where electronic sounds and some fascinating harmonies appear. Fortunately the vocal variation lands on the right side of irritating for me – I could never get on with Joanna Newsom. It’s a little hard to make out the lyrics on a first listen, particularly in the verses. Again, more listens required (see I’m already promising to go back to it again after this write up).

‘And It Will Lick You Clean’ sees things stripped right back, with vocals and piano to the fore, and other parts appearing sporadically. Kathryn is playing round with song structures too, there’s not standard pop song format here.

‘There Is No God But You’ uses structure cleverly again, to build and build, layering textures and dynamics, before cutting suddenly short and not spilling over into a full blast of energy like you might expect. And I’m ok with that. It doesn’t need to. Why end on a big proggy mess of instruments when you can perfectly tease the listener with the building effect and leave them wanting? The album title points strongly toward unfulfilled want and she’s letting the listener feel just a little bit of that.

The dynamic build is back on ‘Safe’. At its core is a simple repeated piano riff, around which Kathryn creates the tension of the track. ‘We Have Been Loved By Other Mothers’ by contrast is a far more relaxed affair.

Two thirds of the way through and what springs to mind is that this seems to be a rare Blind Taste Test that is truly blind – I’ve usually heard at least one song before without knowing who it was. None of this album is familiar to me, but I get the feeling it will be soon.

‘Mouths Full of Blood’ is straight into the darkness the other song titles have only hinted at. So on this one I had to cheat and look up the lyrics: ‘Broken like bread / Made out of shit you said / Cuckolded, scissored and stoned / Mouths full of blood you are’. It seems at odds with the reasonably jolly piano on this track now. Is it all as dark as this? So far I’m just enjoying it without even being able to take it all in. This album has more to reveal to me. I feel like you’ve cheated at Blind Taste Test by picking an album that requires repeated listens. You sneaky bastard. But I’ll let you off because it’s great.

Just ‘Mountain’, ‘Weight’ and ‘^^’ to go. I feel like there is another obvious artist to compare the vocal and piano playing style to, but I can’t quite pin it down. I’ll get back to you. ‘Weight’ has the best vocal melody on the whole album. If it wasn’t for all the other reasons to come back, the way this hits me would easily do it on its own.

Well I’ll have to give it to, you’ve finally done it. Now the pressure is on to find a dead cert to send back. What on earth am I going to do?

Words by James Spearing and Fran Slater

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