It’s a more sociable, happier story than Justin Vernon’s log-cabin-in-the-woods tale – and this album is inevitably cheerier than Bon Iver’s first record. A closer comparison is with Badly Drawn Boy’s The Hour of Bewilderbeast: the music has the same carefully crafted air, as though it was constructed by candlelight, and Lindsay’s warm, spoken vocals mimic Damon Gough as they chant over deconstructed folk patterns.
Cheek Mountain Thief is not always an easy listen. It’s bitty and fragmented. It toys with formulae. So yes, there are layered vocal harmonies throughout, but the album is also splintered with clatters and jitters: stabbing brass at the end of Nothing, skittish jazz drums on Snook Pattern, screeching “demons” on Showdown. It embraces you in a warm hug while poking you repeatedly in the ribs.
British and Icelandic textures interweave, Lindsay shaping images of the landscape. The rhythms on Spirit Fight sound like a horse race across the tundra, while the eccentric lyrics talk of mountains and snow and sand, and create their own textures – There’s a Line begins: “Glass falls off the table / The ghost is running late again / Voices in the wind machine / Whispering horses.”
At first strange and otherworldly, this labour of love gradually finds its way into your heart. Much like the country that inspired it.