If you have ever seen a Glasswing Butterfly you’ll appreciate that it’s hard to imagine that such delicate wings could support the weight of anything enough to generate flight. That same delicate strength is demonstrated on Brocken Spectre* by Radiant Heart. The London-based duo of Celia MacDougall and Chris Moore live in the same gentle universe as artists like Kings of Convenience and The Montgolfier Brothers, a world where you are lightly kissed awake at the weekend by sun streaming through your window with the smell of toast and coffee hanging in the air.
This is an album you can either drift through like a river boat trip; a soothing backdrop to your day as it carries you along in its soporific embrace, or you can dive in and closely inspect each delicately crafted song. Radiant Heart tackle themes of love and intimacy, moments of laconic, bittersweet beauty and this includes the nearly tragic, true life event documented in ‘All The World 4 Him’ when Chris saved a drowning child in a quarry and nearly drowned himself in the process. The duo says that this upsetting event also “kind of leaked into some of the themes of this record”.
The instrumentation is a tiny orchestra of instruments such as guitar, banjo, glockenspiel, keyboard, and a hint of percussion which are brought together in sparkling arrangements that also demonstrate a delicious restraint throughout. There is a buoyancy to the album that allows the voices to shine and Celia and Chris’s singing is so intimately entwined they often seem to be one voice. A great example is ‘Museum’ where Chris and Celia start in unison and then slide effortlessly into harmony like starlings flying together.
To say Radiant Heart are just folk would do them a massive disservice. They are much broader and use the traditional as a starting point to make Brocken Spectre a very town and country album. The pastoral strum of a banjo nestles up against a cosmopolitan guitar sound and the balance between conventional and contemporary is one of the great delights of this album. If you need a little sun streaming through your window as we head into winter then you could do worse than bask in the warmth of Radiant Heart.
Review by Paul F Cook
*Every day is a school day: A Brocken Spectre is an atmospheric optical effect that causes a ‘ghostly’ halo or spectre to appear due to a climber looking downwards into mist and seeing a glow or ‘spectre’. Named after sightings made on the Brocken Peaks in Germany’s Harz Mountains. This is the event pictured on the album’s cover.