The new album from the British three-piece South has arrived, appropriately, just as autumn is about to begin. With the Tides, a 12-song opus, virtually drips with echoes of the twilight season. Even the album’s cover art, which depicts two witchy, Halloween-ish figures dancing with sweet abandon against the failing light, suggests the ancient English countryside. Fitting, then, that the songs themselves dance with a soft, supple fascination with string arrangements and paint their backgrounds with the colors of introspection, wrapping the listener in a fireside yarn wrought with fleeting images of fragility, evolution, warning and acceptance through the use of crisp, sparkling guitars, lush, honest vocals and a vital, yet melancholy, rhythm section.
I say melancholy because songs such as “What I Find,” “Motiveless Crime” and “Natural Disasters” generate a reflective sadness while at the same time, when viewed within the context of the entire work, add to a kind of joyous struggle that occurs somewhere deep in the well of emotion. The band’s sound virtually assures that comparisons will be made. “Threadbare” has a BRMC fuzz-tunnel sound, while the group’s overall subdued approach suggests an inkling of Travis. But both of these comparisons mislead, unless perhaps Barry Adamson and/or Massive Attack was producing an offspring culled from the mating of those two bands.
What sets South apart is the band’s cinematic entrenchments of distortion; ebbing, swirling keyboards; and again, the majestic strings, harpsichords and other almost Victorian-tinged sounds. All of these factors put South more in the vein of the dark musings of Tricky than the bittersweet pop of many of the recent Brit bands.
South seems in tune with an emotional wisdom we could all learn something from. With the Tides balances damnation and forgiveness, tears of joy and sadness, the moment of birth and the moment just before death. It is a perfect mental mapping of the inner and outer change of all things in the season of dusk; as the weather changes, and the days grow short, we can all find a little solace in South.