Real-life story time! Today (as of writing this) we had the first snow that didn’t melt away overnight where I live, and so I decided to go for a spontaneous morning walk around the village. It was still snowing when I walked out the door, big white flakes falling towards the ground around me. Grey clouds overcast the sky, and the shrubs and hedges, as well as the few patches of grass still visible, were covered in hoar frost and the odd snowflake. Off in the distance, the conifers looked as if Bob Ross had just immortalized them in a happy little painting. The snow crunching beneath my feet, I took in the excitingly familiar sights and the cool air – I’m a winter person through and through, if you haven’t noticed by now.
And while strolling through this first glimpse of the winter to come, I listened to the album I’m about to review: Heiress by Novo Amor and Ed Tullett. Needless to say, it fit the mood and scenery perfectly.
Both Novo Amor and Ed Tullett (from Wales and England, respectively) partake in the post-Bon Iver ambient indie folk movement, which has previously brought forth wonderful artists such as Mree, for example. Heiress is the duo’s first collaborative effort, and also Novo Amor’s first full-length release (Tullett already put out two solo albums). It was announced in August of this year, having been written and recorded over the span of three years, and even though I was already familiar with these musicians and their talents, I was woefully unprepared for what awaited me when Heiress was finally released on November 10.
‘Oh, a tide on your tongue‘
“Silvery” is the earliest highlight of the album – literally, given that it’s the first song overall. In Ed Tullett’s words, it’s ‘about someone or something that you would do anything for, unconditionally.’ A background ambiance, accompanied by a rudimentary piano rhythm, begins this song, forming the backbone the other instruments and the outstanding, emotional vocals work around. Especially the hook line ‘I will save your blood for years’ is sung with so much passion that it unavoidably evokes a sense of unconditional devotion. Additional percussion, a fuzzed-out guitar and dramatic horns give a heightened sense of intensity to the music in the closing third of the song.
A bit more driving in terms of rhythm and tempo is “Cavalry”, the third song on Heiress. The drums are more pronounced and important here than on most of the record; they carry the whole chorus with their up-tempo marching-band stylings, for instance. After a slow, melodic bridge, the two musicians launch into a stomping, epic ending section garnished with a triumphant trumpet and conclusive lyrics marking the point of letting go.
‘Oh brother, will you cut it out?‘
Even multiple listens in, it’s still amazing to hear how well these two guys’ voices fit together; it’s as if they were meant to sing in unison from the beginning of time. Tullett’s almost fragile, crystalline tone compliments the warm, earthy timbre of Novo Amor perfectly, and the beautiful vocal harmonies they were able to weave out of their consonance are a huge part of why Heiress is as gorgeous of an album as it is.
Many of the songs on this album were written in the home of Novo Amor, on his piano. So it comes as no surprise that a good portion of them is quite keyboard instrument-focused. Among those is “Anatome”, which kicks off with a simple piano rhythm over softly-played string instruments. This rhythm carries on throughout the track, while different layers of auxiliary instrumentation are added and subtracted with the changing moods. As the song reaches its climax, it becomes exponentially more triumphant and affirmative, repeating the chorus (one of the record’s many, many extremely memorable moments) a few times before ending once more on the piano.
“Terraform” again relies heavily on the piano for rhythmic purposes, while the electric and acoustic guitars, violin (both plucked and bowed), and later on percussion flesh it out further. At first sung by Tullett on his own, with Novo Amor later joining in with harmony- rather than background vocals, this song is, also thanks to its very detailed instrumental backdrop, perhaps my favorite one out of the eleven on Heiress. Lyrically dealing with ‘the end of a relationship, platonic or romantic, that you then realise you’re better off without’, “Terraform” veils some of its more sharp-tongued tendencies in the wonderful melodies achieved by the two vocalists.
‘Oh, there’s contact‘
The album’s production is superb as well. Even the most minute, subtle elements, like the plucked violin in “Terraform” or the gentle counting off to the climax in “Anatome”, were awarded a treatment with utmost care to help them shine in the big picture. This album was clearly a labor of love for everyone involved in the process of making it, and that feeling seeps through every note played.
With a ghostly piano cadence, the intro to “Freehand” heralds the finale of Heiress. The sparse instrumentation is conducive to the intimate vocal delivery, allowing it to be more haunting than it would be in a more crowded arrangement. Long after the final forlorn moments of this song ring out in your head, you will still hear the phrase ‘Oh there’s contact’ floating around your thoughts. Putting one of the more minimalistic tracks at the end of the album leaves it ending on an interestingly somber note, almost as if to urge the listener to another run-through.
Seldom have I had to deal with an album that’s so atmospherically and qualitatively dense that I regret not having more space to go into every single song with the attention to detail they deserve; over the course of the last ten paragraphs, I merely touched upon the crème de la crème and some other striking features apparent on Heiress. I have not the slightest idea how they did it, but virtually all songs Novo Amor and Ed Tullett came up with for this project are perfect – at least in combination with each other. Therefore, they leave me no other conclusion than this being a masterpiece, no discussion and no ifs or buts about it. And I highly doubt that this impression will change once the weather does.
Notable Tracks: I’d say all of them, but especially “Silvery”; “Euphor”; “Terraform” and “Freehand”
FFO: Bon Iver, Mree, James Vincent McMorrow