Johnny Flynn came out of the same West London new-folk set that gave us Laura Marling, Mumford & Sons, and Noah & The Whale, but unlike those three, his career seems to have existed perennially under the radar. Possibly this is due to competing aims. An actor too, he spends most of the time on stage, and indeed most of this new album Sillion, his fourth, was recorded whilst he was starring in Martin McDonagh’s Hangmen. The problem is, it sounds like it.
It’s not that Sillion is a bad record. There are nice moments on it. The opening track Raising the Dead has that Americana-indie-folk vibe that’s served Iron & Wine’s later career so well. It’s just that, it doesn’t really sound that different to anything else he’s done. Where Mumford & Sons have branched out into a more electric sound, or worked with South African musicians, or where Laura Marling has worked with new producers and wonderfully honed and refined her songwriting, it feels like we’re listening to an actor’s hobby; a side-project.
Sillion is perfectly fine, as a record. It does grow on you. Nice strings, jangly guitars, Flynn’s honeyed, uber-English vocal that wouldn’t feel out of place on a Fairport Convention record. There’s the allusions to traditional folk, with his take on John Barleycorn. There’s Jefferson’s Torch, which feels like a response to the tense political climate we’re in now. There’s even loftier poetic aspirations on something like Wandering Aengus.
There’s just nothing bringing the whole thing together, and a nagging feeling that he could do better if he tried.
Listen to: Raising the Dead, Wandering Aengus