In 2007, the 23-year old Russell Joslin released his first self-produced, bedroom-folk album ‘Dream Token’ to unexpected critical and public acclaim; Subba-cultcha.com called it ‘a much-needed gust of fresh air into the British folk scene’ whilst DIY deemed it ‘an album of eloquent beauty’. Since then his wayward journey has always been in the direction of his forthcoming, fourth studio album ‘Hey Mathematician’ – a rare and observant tale of heart, unrest and rebellion in an increasingly fraught and controlling world.
Singer-songwriter Russell Joslin has lived in the ever-intensifying metropolis of London, UK for the last 12 years; where his unique strain of dissenting, literate folk has seen him become a stalwart of the city’s singer-songwriter scene. He has self-produced 3 solo albums as well as fronting 2 rock bands – folk-punk two-piece ‘Pretty Bricks’ and art-rock three-piece ‘High Windows’. He now tours as a much-lauded duet with his Australian soulmate and singing partner Sarah McCaig (‘the musical charge they generated together was truly electrifying’ – Musicboxfolk.com). Over the past 18 months he has toured western Europe extensively, supported Martha Tilston for several shows and been booked for numerous profile UK folk festivals: Bromyard, Sark, Lyme Folk Weekend as well as a 2017 slot at Isle of Wight Festival.
Throughout his career, Joslin has used his songs to illustrate unsettling images of his turbulent environment and relied on literature to inform and direct his work. ‘Hey Mathematician’ is no exception; themes of love and rebellion in the context of a controlling society are key to both Russell’s 4th album and ‘We’ the seminal dystopian 1921 novel and precursor to Orwell’s Nineteen Eighty-Four by Yevgeny Zamyatin, from which the album takes its name
‘We’ tells the story of D-503, a man of numbers, subservient to the ‘One-State’, who falls in love and eventually rebels against the totalitarian regime which confines him. The atmosphere of ‘Hey Mathematician’, whilst having the contemporary world as it’s backdrop, owes a debt to the futuristic and troubled story of ‘We’ as Joslin paints a picture of love, sentimentality, fear and hope on the canvas of an increasingly anguished, digitised environment. The love expressed throughout the album is almost always that of Joslin and his Australian girlfriend Sarah McCaig – the couple are pictured on the album cover reflected in an East London puddle holding on to each other for dear life in industrial filth, to face the city’s storms as lovers and artists. Russell and Sarah, whilst having found an intense and soul-defining love – pressured by the demands of the city and explored in dark love songs such as ‘Water for Blood’, ‘The Cold of The Night’ and ‘Shackles’ – also represent city-dwellers the world over; rudderless souls searching for romance, integrity and wonder in a system which seems increasingly intent on the distraction and domination of its citizens
Track 2 on the album, ‘Elevate me (Smoke)’ is an insubordinate, demanding letter to politicians in the wake of a second Tory UK election victory, expressing disgust at the degrading state of English society compared with the comfort and connivance of the nation’s leaders. ‘Billy’s Funeral’ is a poetic and thankful lament on a working life lived proudly and a love which endures in the face of the world’s realities. ‘Shipwreck’ is a pained, fatalistic account of modern day anxiety alongside a message of defiance, whilst ‘We are 40 Now’ spits bile at an increasingly shallow, image conscious hipster culture within a financially corrupt and globalised London – ‘my tinder’s full of bearded lunatics, mincing round in threes in H&M kits’. If there are more traditional protest songs on the album then they lie with ‘If I Die a Tory’ and ‘The Blocks of St. Lukes’ – whilst the first is self-explanatory to anyone familiar with the UK’s conservative government the latter is a tribute to Sam Hallam, jailed for 7 years in 2005 for a murder he did not commit and indicative of tens of thousands of miscarriages of UK justice.
In contrast to the more produced, studio-based band sound of Russell’s 2015 album ‘Harlequins’, ‘Hey Mathematician’ was conceived as a raw, live recording using the city’s top sessions players to fill out the songs. Preparation came in the form of Russell’s past two years of European touring; comprising over 150 live shows. It was recorded using vintage equipment, at the now defunct North London studio, The Cowshed. The album was mixed down to quarter-inch tape by Ed Duggan at Gizzard studio (a Toe Rag Studio spin-off) using rare 50’s gear and the experienced ears of the no-frills producer of rockabilly and garage-punk (Billy Childish, Holly Golightly). From there the album was taken to vinyl-cutting living-legend and loudness war rebel Noel Summerville for mastering. Summerville took control of the sound of the record once Russell was far beyond burnt-out and added the conservative and considered polish it needed to entice the listener and celebrate its vast, carefully recorded dynamic range.
In ‘Hey Mathematician’ Russell Joslin has created a personal folk album which truly speaks about its wider time and place, using the best of London’s assets to create the sound and modern society’s darkness for material.
RUSSELL JOSLIN www.russelljoslinmusic.co.uk