NEW RELEASE: Faultress - Creatures EP
Ahead of the release of the new Faultress EP, Creatures, Gem Milsom offers a strategy guide to navigating this intricate work, and placing it within the broader Faultress catalog.
Our never-ending cultural fascination with the human voice is easy to understand; it is the container for all language and emotion, able to evoke infinite shades of character and mood with the subtlest of inflections; and whether its invocations are comforting, alluring, upsetting or alarming, it is always deeply connected to “us”, the humans within. Still, there seem to be moments in history where creative inquiry into the human voice is more prevalent (seemingly induced by advances in the technology we use to capture it), and we undoubtedly find ourselves in one of those moments now. Artists like Holly Herndon and Arca are creating work (like Daft Punk and The Pet Shop Boys before them) that explores the breakdown between humans and machines, as we imbue them with ever more life-like intelligence.
This work can sometimes pay a price for its cutting-edge relevancy, though; anything that examines a conceptual element in this way can easily slip into something more like an intellectual exercise than art you can identify with, relate to, warm to. How do you dissect the human voice without killing it?
Rosi Croom’s work as Faultress goes many places, but feels centred around folk music. Even on a song like Marilyn, the standout single from 2019’s 5 Myths EP, the bells and driving percussion wrap the song in contemporary pop finery, but a performance at Union Chapel last year with London Contemporary Voices reveals its DNA; Rosi’s strident English voice hangs unadorned over the harmonies that support her, imploring you to understand her better, look at her messy humanity dead in the face and comprehend.
Her new EP, Creatures, is a distillation of this impulse to its barest bones. Four tracks of pure vocal work, only one of which breaches the two-minute mark, so delicately composed that they barely stay still long enough to see their shape, but like one of Robert Rauschenberg’s white paintings, they contain a world of subtle forms and variations that emerge upon closer inspection.
The opening track, Owl, introduces you to this EP’s handful of tools one at a time. There is Rosi’s voice, tiny digital embellishments highlighting individual words and syllables as necessary. Then, faintly, another layer of voice offers some harmonic context before swerving off into a deep modulated growl.
This EP is full of voices doing this; tiny fragments of musical information dart away into the undergrowth the moment they’re caught in your headlights. Gradually over the course of each song they accrete into a resounding emotional payoff, but never in the same way.
Each track here takes the guise of another woodland creature to find new sympathetic approaches to very human situations. Bee illustrates the volatility of a difficult relationship, the high-strung, exhausting energy of being around someone you love and can’t help but fight with. On Moth, we find a portrait of temptation; from the moment Rosi’s strikingly exposed voice opens with a plaintive “Who are you? Can I know your name before you destroy me?” her fate is sealed — we all know a moth can never resist a good flame.
The animal metaphors serve a greater purpose than just being a canny songwriting technique. This EP takes human experiences (of which there are many, acutely observed: Bee describes “constant troubleshoots / at 1am / of disagreements / then hysterical / til 6am / we laugh until it hurts”) and then it forgives us for them, placing humans not as a distinct layer that sits on top of our environment but as just one more endlessly fascinating part of the ecosystem, trying to get by and thrive. This holistic philosophical approach is common in folk music, but Rosi’s unflinching analytical eye never allows it to sink into the sentimental territory that makes so much folk feel fuzzy-wuzzy or parochial. Instead, the tension is held and held until breaking point, when in the final minutes of Shrew the dawn breaks, and bathed in choral splendour, Rosi is letting the truth tumble out of her: “I can’t escape / I can’t forget / I can’t escape”. It’s an emotional payoff that sends shivers down my spine every time I hear it, and as the voices recede back into the dim light of morning and Rosi is left alone on the stage once more, she lands where we always land when we’re being honest with ourselves like this: “I don’t always understand”.
When I talked to Rosi about this EP recently, she downplayed its significance in her catalog; her sights are set on a full album, recorded with a choir and other instrumentalists. “I’ve done one week already in the studio and it’ll be the rest of the year in the making… I’m extremely excited about that- so it’s been difficult to focus on this project, but I’m glad in a way because what’s been produced is raw which I think typifies the current zeitgeist”. When I ask specifically what about the zeitgeist she’s referring to, she says, “that rawness in the form of unanswered questions and unprocessed feelings is something I feel in the air right now”. This EP is certainly an example of what is coming to be understood as a “lockdown project”, but that doesn’t define it. It is the sound of someone with their sights set high, laying the groundwork for what is to come.
“My voice seems to work in a unique way, and tuning to other voices I work with, who are generally a lot cleaner and technically better than mine, I have to work hard to rough them up. I regret not having formal training for my voice in many ways, but my reason for singing is to communicate emotion, and I don’t think you need training for that”.
Rosi’s voice is certainly immediately identifiable as hers whenever you hear it, and the songs she writes seem to always be conscious of the role and weight of every element that goes into them. On Creatures, those elements are so few that you’ll struggle to find leaner more efficient songwriting anywhere else this year, every element like a piece of clockwork contributing to the smooth running of the whole. As we move out of lockdown, Rosi’s focus may already be on what lies beyond these intricate home constructions, but Creatures is a joyous demonstration of a serious artist honing her powers and biding her time, A collection of effortless sketches that serve to prepare us for whatever incredible machines she’ll be building next.
Creatures will be available on all streaming platforms from tomorrow, Friday 27th August. The single, Owl, is out now.