Up until their 2009 Mercury Prize-nominated record Twice Born Men, U.K. experimental folk-rock act Sweet Billy Pilgrim were a part-time outfit with day jobs, and frontman Tim Elsenburg had his hand down a toilet when receiving the news of their nomination. A small publishing advance was all it took to persuade Elsenburg to concentrate on music full-time, and the band’s beautiful third offering, Crown and Treaty, is a fine result of that decision. Without steering too far from their previous albums’ templates, Crown and Treaty expands the band’s atmospheric sound and introduces the addition of female vocalist and guitarist (as well as Doctor Who actor) Jana Carpenter alongside core members Anthony Bishop and Alistair Hamer. Three years have elapsed since their second record, with much of the time spent writing as well as perfecting the intricate production process that Elsenburg has developed, while also upgrading their studio space from a lowly garden shed to a lowly bungalow. With the big hooks and melodies that invigorate “Blakefield Glory” and the soaring chorus in “Brugada,” it is easy to feel that the band have erred toward a poppier approach on first listen. However, further spins reveal unrelenting depth and layers that fill the album with intrigue. Bordering on experimental rock, all the spaces in between the drums, gritty bass, acoustic guitar, and humble vocals are thoughtfully colored with all manner of instrumentation, including a plucked dishwasher. The presence of new addition Carpenter is felt in the harmonious “Shadow Captain,” which bustles past in a hum of plucked guitars and harmonies that the Fleet Foxes would be proud of. Without feeling fussy or trite, Crown and Treaty creates dynamic soundscapes with a keen pop sensibility woven within tracks like “Joyful Reunion” that unfold gently until their climactic ending. Their third record manages to blur the lines of the folk-rock tags they have been pinned with, flirting around with poppy hooks and soaring Elbow-esque endings, while Elsenburg’s ambitious songwriting breeds almost cinematic breakdowns, which are symbolic of the ambition and creativity that this record exudes. If the majesty of this record indicates anything, it’s that not only were Sweet Billy Pilgrim right to quit their day jobs, but they probably won’t need to go back to them anytime soon.
Share this page
AllMusic Review by Scott Kerr