Oddfellows Casino is the brainchild of jack of all trades, David Bramwell. Described as ‘a one-man cottage industry', Dr. Bramwell also writes books, performs stand-up comedy and runs club nights. His last release under the Oddfellows Casino moniker was an EP back in 2008 and before that the full length Winter Creatures in 2005. On said record, Bramwell exhibited his folk sensibilities while merging them with indie and most interestingly, jazz. At times it sounded like Belle and Sebastian on a Bill Evans bender. The overriding themes of nature and the great outdoors that Bramwell conjures continues in his latest effort The Raven’s Empire, albeit this time we have gone into the darker, colder part of the woods.

Where previous Oddfellows work has shown playfulness and whimsy, The Raven’s Empire has been decidedly stripped of this. It is melancholic throughout and is dead set on creating the world of ‘the raven’, which it doubtlessly does. There are few moments of jazz; there is the occasional piano break, brass fill or nod on the drums but for the most part we are in folk mode, but with additional indie rock spattering to pad it out. Bramwell’s voice is rounded and has the sound of the folk vocalist of old. However, there is a troubling feature when listening; whether done intentionally by the producer or by accident, when the vocals are overdubbed, a strange distortion appears on his voice. It sounds like Daft Punk have infiltrated and it clangs with the album’s pastoral standpoint.

Opener, ‘The Day the Devil Slipped Away’ begins with an acoustic guitar motif similar to Radiohead’s ‘Go to Sleep’. The song slowly builds by adding more instrumentation along the way and ends with possibly the only moment in the album that grabs you by the throat and demands your attention in the guise of a riff that Elbow would be proud of. ‘We will be here’ sounds like it has been plucked out of The Wicker Man Soundtrack, the percussive rhythm and melody line are like Wicker Man by numbers. Lyrically, Bramwell explicitly mentions the album’s title and ‘the crows and the rooks’ (another track’s title) keeping us nicely grounded in concept album territory. The actual song ‘The Crows and the Rooks’ is a track that is easily written off as filler. ‘When the Comet Came’ is also a pretty lightweight affair. ‘You’ve Come to These Woods’ starts well with the nice touch of using the closing refrain of ‘It’s not my skin they need, it’s you’ before reducing into the main body of the song and then rebuilding with a military beat and letting the refrain take charge.

The structures and formulas of the songs are often similar. Most start bare, build and end, but there are not enough shifts in gear in the songs, instead more and more instruments are added to one or two ideas. This becomes, at times, monotonous and the listener is easily distracted, especially when the songs are unnecessarily long. This results in the tracks merging into each other. There are moments of extended music which could be cut to make the album more concise.

The overall concept that is ‘The Raven’s Empire’ is entirely here and to be able to create such an environment through the music and lyrical notions is commendable. The musicianship and arrangements are also undeniably well executed. However, concept alone cannot carry a record; there has to be something beneath this surface. There are glimmers of this, but too often the songs do not show enough variety and if stripped bare, it is questionable whether they would hold up.