Over the past three years, Alasdair Roberts has tracing a quiet path from traditional folk musician, covering the standards with a guitar and a soft Scottish voice, to visionary writer and teller of esoterick tales. ‘The Wyrd Meme’ is a four song EP that follows hard on the heels of ‘Spoils’, a complex and absorbing album. It’s an urgent bulletin from a parallel world, where nameless things lurk in your dreams and myth is more likely to save you than rational thought.
The music is shamanic, sweet and terrifying, mostly just Roberts and his guitar. The record starts with ‘The Hallucinator and the King of the Silver Ship of Time’ is a complex, multi-phased 7 minutes about a mystical hermit with a mission to “with an eider quill retrace our annals”, rescued from the sea by the King of Time. It features a series of manic first person prophecies, gnomic and unsettling: “The dagger of the west will never linger long in the scabbard of the east.’” All this is conjured from minimal instrumentation, strange whistling sound effects and Roberts’ intimate voice. It has the potential to be unlistenable, but instead it’s astonishing. He fuses psychedelic sensibilities, with alternative Lovecraft realities, and the true storytelling folk tradition.
‘The Yarn Unraveller’, is a lament full of chiming acoustic guitar, ships doomed to sail forever, and axes with double blades.
‘The Royal Road at the World’s End’ begins calmly, with a dream journey and escalates to a pitch of wyrdness as ‘the fire devours its own inventor’, before reaching a distorted, peculiarly Scottish apocalypse where “The world ends in a skirl and war cry.” Roberts tosses in lyrics of casual and strange brilliance, among which “You think you’re going to scare me with your fucking taxidermy” is particularly delightful.
Finally ‘Coal and Tar’ is brim full of domestic tenderness with a heartfelt refrain, ‘It’s been far too long since we saw in the dawn with our loving’. The magic is on a household scale, and Roberts appears to renounce the protection of nature to fall back on his own resources to keep the horrors at bay.
This EP is truly a wyrd and wonderful thing, containing some of the best song writing to be found anywhere right now.