Farewell J.R (is that a Dallas reference?), the acoustic alter-ego of Nick Rayner, reportedly began life as a means for Rayner to get some 'me' time, and dabble with his own ideas on his own terms. The Cambridge-based singer-songwriter eventually relocated to Cork for recording sessions, to find that the project, far from being a lone wolf scenario, was turning into something of a global collaboration – okay, so Ireland, England and Australia were involved, but that counts as 'global', right? Regardless, the result is Health, an EP/mini-album full of moments as gigantic as Sigur Rós and as delicate as Daughter. It's a multifaceted creation, dominated by lush textures and wild soundscapes that evoke as much emotion as was required to create them.
'Failure' whispers into being, recalling the tenderness of acts like Iron & Wine or early Bon Iver. Rayner's trembling voice cracks with uncertainty, before launching headlong into a bustling verse, soaked in warm chords and endless 'oohs'. That's what the opener does – it flips between frailty and pomp. The ascent of 'Sweet Elizabeth' is heralded by mournful guitar plucking and Rayner's once again vulnerable vocals, but the ode to love doesn't lurk in the skeletal sounds; sympathetic violins provide counterpoint to a macabre falsetto, and rolling drones ensure a richness to the music. It's clear that Rayner, though a singer-songwriter with an acoustic guitar, excels at crafting huge noises, adding extra instrumentation, tempestuous beats or whatever the noises demand. It all feels very natural, and the tracks seem to just leak from his fingertips. It's effortless.
Sometimes however, as the atmospheric songs unfold, you just pray he'll really let go. He often gets close, like on 'A Thought A Mind', but he never just unleashes that pained howl of emotion that's plainly inside him. Occasionally, you'll find similarities to Frightened Rabbit, as the acousticisms take a rockier turn and the pace ramps up, but this teasing just serves to strengthen that desire for an explosion of feelings. Although saying that, Health may not actually necessitate that expulsion of pent-up energy. It might be a case of 'want' over 'need'. One of the biggest ticks is that the EP creates tension, frequently leaving you on tenterhooks amongst eerie silence, allowing you to lean if awaiting that next drop of sound. Without that mighty release, you're itching for more – a stellar feature in any release, so applause on that front.
The whole effort is a chilling encounter, everywhere you turn there's spine-tingling vocals, restrained percussion and hurricane strings. 'Sickness' sends shivers with ratatat rhythms and thickly-layered sound, 'Night Wolves' is a post-rock saga with an enormous climax. Health works wonders as a debut EP – it's tantalising, and shows almost the entire spectrum of what Rayner is capable of through stellar cuts of acoustic rock and expansive walls of noise. Each track is sodden with crystalline moments. This is a sign of great promise for Farewell J.R.