It's been a few hours since we've had a new release from Darren Hayman so this new album with The Short Parliament (a truncated version of his Long Parliament one assumes) is perhaps a bit overdue. Joking aside, Darren Hayman is quite possibly the most prolific man in indie with a back catalog that puts most to shame. It was in 2009 that the first part of his 'Essex Trilogy' was released, and 'Pram Town' was eventually followed (in between other records) by the final part, 'The Violence', at the end of last year, focusing on the English Civil War and witch trials. This recent fascination with the past is what has fuelled 'Bugbears', an album that's collected together folk songs from the 17th century. Some have been reinterpreted, rewritten or edited, and although it's pointed out that the album may not be definitive historical readings of the songs, much research has been done into the subject matter and it could be considered a companion to the aforementioned trilogy.
The transition from elder statesman of indiepop to folk traditionalist isn't as strange as it may seem, because what is indiepop if not a modern form of folk music? Dealing with the trivialities of life, not the fantasy, bravado and falsehood fostered by some genres. Naturally this period of English history was far from trivial, but you get the idea. Whether or not the line in 'Martin Said' "I saw a maid milk a man, lusty eyes empty hands" was initially written with such innuendo in mind will only truly be known by those long gone. Other subject matter includes royalists, puritans, roundheads, soldiers and kings, and the musical interpretation is close enough to how it would have been at the time to make this album more than just an update, it does have an authenticity. We hear of the perils of arranged marriage ('Seven Months Marriage'), the confusion and uncertainty of war ('I Live Not Where I Love') and whether it was all worth the effort ('Old England Grown New').
At other points, particularly the title-track, the music seems more modern, but this makes sense when we learn it was a section of poetry from that time set to Darren's own music. As a rule, the instrumentation is exactly what you'd expect from traditional folk stories; acoustic, wooden instruments that are handled well in experienced hands. Thankfully, that unusual intonation that folk singers still insist on using in nowhere to be seen. 'The Owl', 'Bold Astrologer' and others may be olde-worlde in their original incarnation, but with a fresh approach Darren Hayman & The Short Parliament have breathed new life into these compositions and with the likes of 'The Contented' and 'Impossibilities' have crossed that bridge from modern indiepop to historical tales, so that they no longer sound like musty relics but more an interesting and occasionally informative journey back in time that's seen through modern eyes and is, on more than one occasion, really quite enchanting.