On A Dark Murmuration of Words, UK folk singer Emily Barkersearches out the invisible connections that shape a rapidly shifting modern world. Like the dark matter that makes up the bulk of the universe or the shape-shifting coordination of a flock of starlings at dusk, it’s the gaps of the unspoken, invisible, and unacknowledged where reality takes shape. Barker’s sixth full-length release, A Dark Murmuration of Words(out September 4 via Thirty Tigers) is a timelyexploration of climate change, racism, sexism, and myths of economic progress through the lens of what it means to return “home.”
Born and raised in a small town in Western Australia, Barker relocated to England in her 20s, where she began performing at open mics while working at pubs and cafes. “I had this constant question of whether or not I should go home, but music kept me here,” she says. This lingering nostalgia brought with it a meditation on our conceptions of home. “This question was amplified by our increasing climate emergency and contending with the fact that Australia was originally owned and lived on by indigenous people. My home was acquired by force.” Wrestling with these questions eventually birthed the song “Nostalgia,” which, after a chance performance at a London house concert, became the theme song for the critically acclaimed BBC’sseries Wallander, which allowed her to go full time as an artist. Her first albums found themselves treading comfortably in folk, blues, and soul territory, with Barker’s major musical influences having come from artists like Carole King, Aretha Franklin, Joni Mitchell, and John Lee Hooker. Her last album, Sweet Kind of Bluewas produced by Matt Ross-Spang (John Prine, Margo Price) at Sam Phillips in Memphis, TN, garnering her a win for 2018 AMA-UK Artist of The Year. For her current album, however, Barker joined forces with producer Greg Freeman(Portico Quartet, Peter Gabriel, Amy Winehouse) in pursuit of a more modern sound inspired by contemporaries like Phoebe Bridgers and Laura Marling. Enlisting the help of a whole flock of musicians, they began production at StudiOwz in Pembrokeshire, Wales. “It was the middle of November, this old chapel-turned-studio, and we slept in the adjacent farmhouse, working 16 hrs a day for a week,” says Barker. “It was a completely different experience, so immersive.” Together with Rob Pemberton(drums, percussion), Lukas Drinkwater(bass), Pete Roe(guitars, keys), Misha Lawand Emily Hall(strings), Barkerand Freemansculpted a soundscape that plays with color and texture, largely eschewing the warm, analogue constant of Sweet Kind of Blue. While still recorded predominately live and on analogue gear, the arrangements and production shapeshift like a flock of starlings and creak like the floorboards of an old house. This is an album with nooks and crannies, full of secrets to uncover with every listen.