The Duke of Norfolk is the stage name of Adam Howard. On his recent album Attendre et Espérer Howard seamlessly blends folk with minimal electronics to create one of the best albums I have heard this year.
Howard says this about his album: “It’s the somber spirit of Sufjan Stevens’ Carrie and Lowell meeting up with the tectonic stylings of Bon Iver’s 22, A Million.” I actually disagree with some of what he says here. The music was often way too infused with an undercurrent of optimism and the spirit of Americana and the Appalachian trail to compared to an album like Carrie and Lowell which to me felt almost dismal yet undeniably beautiful. For me the much much obvious comparison would be Fleet Foxes from the guitar style to the vocal delivery and more.
That shining undying American spirit flows through this album. It feels alive and dynamic pressing upon both our fears and hopes. The album gets going with the arguable highlight entitled “Dylan Thomas / Bitter Bitter.” You are greeted with orchestral strings that weave warm emotions that are melancholy and nostalgic. There is this sense and tension that the song is building towards something. That moment hits like a breaking wave around the two-minute mark. The vocals, guitar, percussion and more create this enduring soundscape that feels like the dawn of a new day that instills you with a sense of vigor. I would say the arpeggiated synth however is the most unique aspect in this equation and continues to be in a number of other songs.
The conquering spirit that manifested on “Bitter” continues with “Kharon.” There are some original lyrics along the way that strike with poetic beauty. Howard sings, “I am drifting into madness despite your promise and I am frightened by the violence of your psalmist.” The foundation Howard was creating with the first two songs is reinforced more with “Shema.” There is a clear direction like the western winds as to where this album was going.
Even the interludes feel like an essential part of this journey as you will hear on “Plath (Interlude #1).” “The Bell Jar Descends” is one of the most somber songs but the interjection of an arpeggiated synth is a move which makes the song feel inventive.
“Pale the Ghost / Sharp the Edge” is getting experimental with percussive aspect and perhaps where the comparison to 22, A Million comes in. There are some subtle surprises as the album moves forward. The synth heavy “The Waters Below” reminded me of Perfume Genius. The album ends “Shema Reprise / Attendre et Espérer” which builds with strings, bells and more culminating in this very calming yet somehow invigorating soundscape that feels borderline enlightening.
Simply put Attendre et Espérer is essential listening. Howard digs deep into the sounds that stir us and finds patterns of energy that mimic the very complicated and often ineffable things we define as emotion. Highly recommended.
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