ALBUM REVIEW: Vashti Bunyan ‘Heartleap’

Godmother of Freak Folk, Vashti Bunyan, bids a triumphant farewell with 'Heartleap'.

Vashti Bunyan’s nomadic wayfaring has taken her to some extraordinary places. ‘Heartleap’ her third and final album, is the sound of an artist discovering their musical homeland after forty-four years of personal pursuit.

A recluse by nature, the songwriter’s debut ‘Just Another Diamond Day’ commercially flopped in 1970 and it wasn’t till its re-release at the turn of the century that it was confirmed as a cult classic. She’s journeyed with Donovan and collaborated with Folk luminaries; Joe Boyd, Robert Kirby and The Incredible String Band and contemporary artists; Devendra Banhart, Johanna Newsom and Animal Collective (see ‘Prospect Hummer’) and she was crowned as the ‘Godmother of Freak Folk’. Yet, these are not the moments that truly define Vashti Bunyan.

Every song on ‘Heartleap’ is as a tender fragment of memory, recalling the hurt of heartbreak or the fear of losing someone. Each note is carefully placed with the delicacy and purity of snowfall. Now, some may find this unbearably twee and find the album inaccessible due to the lack of percussion, the fragile quality of the songs and Vashti’s wraith-like vocals. I suppose it’s a niche genre for exactly that reason.

However, some will relate with the daydream-inducing flow of the album and its graceful honesty will resonate within. Whether it’s the sublime ambling of ‘Across The Water’ or the ethereal double tracked vocals of ‘Jellyfish’ fading in and out, or the lucid imagery of ‘Holy Smoke’: “Do I want to be like trees, who stand round in freezing fog just waiting for the spring to come for me?”

Vashti was disappointed with her debut because she felt its ‘campfire’ sound and folk stylings hadn’t been a true representation of herself. With ‘Heartleap’, Bunyan controlled the whole process, from whittling away on cubase arranging notes to handpicking musicians. For this reason ‘Heartleap’ captures the soul of Vashti Bunyan, it stands as sum of all her years and experiences and because of that, it’s also her most heartfelt contribution to music yet.

David Weir