Patrick Wolf – Sundark and Riverlight album review

Set aside your expectations for more of Patrick Wolf’s folktronica sound, as the commemorative Sundark and Riverlight delivers an entirely new experience.

Hailing from South London, England into a creative family, Patrick Wolf has been artistically inclined since his pre-teen years. As a teen he participated in street performance, worked in fashion retail, wrote his own songs, and eventually formed his own group dubbed Maison Crimineaux. A Maison Crimineaux gig would catch the eye of producer Capitol K, who would eventually release Patrick’s first album in 2003 titled Lycanthropy. Along with his subsequent releases—Wind in the Wires (2005), The Magic Position (2007), The Bachelor (2009), and Lupercalia (2011)—Patrick’s sound has become known for its alternative rock-indietronica style.

Sundark and Riverlight—the singer-songwriter’s 6th album—was released on September 25th, 2012 on his own Bloody Chamber Music label. In celebration of a decade of musical creativity, it delivers a 2-CD set of acoustic tunes, thus notably differing from Patrick’s usual multi-layered sound. Of the 16 tracks, 15 have appeared in their original form on previous albums while “Bitten” figures as the one new track. In terms of mood, the first disc generally carries gloomier tones, contrasting the second more upbeat disc.

The classical instruments effectively convey mood to emotional and weighty themes such as war/conflict (in its many forms), identity, acceptance, and genderless love. The acoustic set-up also creates a sense of intimacy that allows Patrick’s vocals to shine through and divulge deep emotion. Some standouts include “Vulture,” whose dramatic piano keys and closing sound effects theatrically diffuse the song’s dark undertones as “Overture” delivers another kind of appeal via a beautifully gentle acoustic beat and accompanying viola and harp strings. The skillful Gypsy Kings-like guitar riffs and background viola of “Together,” along with its romantically touching lyrics, make for an amazingly moving tune, as “Bermondsey Street” samples multi-lingual speeches to drive home its message of universal love.

Overall, there is no question that Sundark and Riverlight significantly differs from its predecessors, but that doesn’t make it any less of an enjoyable experience. And indeed, why not celebrate one’s own historical musicology by adding another layer of experimentation to the list—perhaps a way to mark the next stage by merging the old with the new? Besides showcasing the artist in a new light, it just might make the future seem a little less predictable.

By Natacha Pavlov

Natacha Pavlov is an avid reader, writer, and traveler. Aside from eating ridiculous amounts of chocolate from her native Belgium, she can be found consuming large quantities of tea, falafel and lebneh in the lovely Bay Area.

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