The Vagaband – Beautiful World Review

When life gives you lemons, you smash the lemons into this brutally ribbed weapon of flesh destruction to extract its juicy lifeblood and rend pulp from peel. From there, you anoint the lemony mana with a heaping helping of sweet sweet granulated cane crystal, and dilute the concentrated concoction with some ice cold tears ov the Earth. This unholy brew is commonly referred to as “lemonade.” I was given an unexpected shipment of lemons when I picked up The Vagaband’s fourth LP, Beautiful World, mistakenly labeled by our promo overlords as “Gothic Folk.” Turns out, there’s not a lick of metal—and only a hint of gothic—to be found on Beautiful World, but there’s a helluva lot of folk.1 With a brave heart and an uncertain spirit, I ventured forth despite the total lack of blog relevance possessed by these songs. Maybe I could make a nice, refreshing pitcher of lemonade out of this after all?

The Vagaband are a tough nut to crack. Mouth harps, square-dancing fiddles, banjos, bluesy beats, and decidedly twangy vocals and guitars conspire to deceive anyone who would naturally assume these folks might hail from Tennessee or some such locale. And yet, the UK troupe spent three albums expertly putting down quality American folk leading up to Beautiful World. With a deeply steeped influence from the Laurel Canyon school—Neil Young, Joni Mitchell, etc—embellished with the country stylings of Dolly Parton and the eclecticism of popular rock acts like Fleetwood Mac and Alan Parsons Project, Beautiful World entrances and lifts the spirit with each golden beam of light it emits into my heart. There’s a distinct lightheartedness to the compositions which belies a sadness embedded in the lyrics, but the contrast enraptures rather than disconnects.

There’s a lot to love about The Vagaband’s fourth LP. Lead single “White Noise” is absolutely gorgeous, deftly tackling the subject of social media overstimulation and self-isolation with tact and poise. Even without the skilled navigation of a relevant current events topic, this tune finds itself among my Song o’ the Year contenders with brilliant songwriting and a rich accompaniment of acoustic, woodwind, and vocal instruments. Shortly thereafter, my favorite song “Avalon” pipes in, offering a near-perfect cruising atmosphere for those looking for something light on its feet and gentle in its approach. Late album highlight “The Unquiet Grave” throws a curveball, opting for a decidedly dark, sultry, gothic Western vibe instead of the bright and sunny bops littering the record. Somehow, it doesn’t feel out of place either, nestled comfortably between the bar-crawling “Wheels” and the hopeful strumming of “On My Feet Again.” Closer “Into the Blue” is the longest song here, but even at just over seven minutes, this track is a big win, pulling psychedelia from Pink Floyd to guide the record to its peaceful rest.

Beautiful World’s songs are certainly a breath of fresh mountain air for this sponge, but its excellent production and pacing pushes it over the edge. Despite utilizing subtly complex arrangements—involving a wide collection of instruments and styles—every detail is perfectly preserved in the mix with a wide open stage, leaving every element plenty of room to frolic. Coupling that with steady and unhurried tempos across the board, and Beautiful World gives this listener the ability to float blissfully across its forty-six-minute runtime. However, I do think that the Scottish folk of “The Pedlar’s Way” throws a small wrench into the machine, sticking out like a sore thumb despite itself being a wonderful bit of a cappella. It won’t wholly derail anyone’s experience, but it is a noticeable detour nonetheless. Additionally, despite its clear intent as a preamble to “Beautiful World,” including a cover of Alice Donut’s “Tiny Ugly World” was unnecessary to get the ultimate point across (especially considering that it’s also the weakest song on the album).

There’s very little else I can find in Beautiful World that warrants criticism. I can, on the other hand, attest that this was absolutely the right album at the right time for me. I had no idea this was what The Vagaband had in store when I first picked them up, but for nearly three hours after I first hit play I couldn’t stop dancing and swaying to Beautiful World, a stupid grin plastered on my face the whole time. With lots of quality time invested, I’ve only grown more and more fond of it. Beautiful World is an unqualified triumph of sweet and bright music. It may well be the furthest thing from metal I’ve covered, but it is great!2

Rating: 4.0/5.0
DR: 8 | Format Reviewed: 320 kbps mp3
Label: Eggsong Records
Website: |
Releases Worldwide: March 3rd, 2023

Show 2 footnotes

  1. So…we were right. – The Promo Overminders
  2. Stop liking non-metal things! – Steel
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