My introduction to William Fitzsimmons was in hearing a song from Lions. It doesn’t matter which song it was because almost every track on the record would have had the same effect on me. Each song has the capability to stop me on the spot, drop what I’m doing and listen to the guitar plucking, ambience and crooning of William’s soft-sung vocals.
It’s difficult for an album of guitar-folk to stand out amongst the abundance of guitar-folk records that come out every year, especially when it’s an artist previously unbeknownst to me. Lions is his fifth record in almost a decade but I’m a newbie.
What makes Lions stand out is the ambience within the songs. Depth added to the recordings in the way of production and arrangement, layering the songs with additional guitars, strings, drums, backing vocals (by Rosie Thomas) or electronic blending by producer Chris Walla using synthesizers, loops, or just simply reverb.
Without this ambience, nothing about the songs would be lost; these additions aren’t needed to make them whole. But with them adds an extra dimension that truly brings them alive.
William’s solemn songwriting evokes loss, failure, painful nostalgia, but his delivery keeps them in check as if he’s yet to externalize the pain revealed in the lyrics. As such, there is little variation across the record and even within songs. While the sound is ace from the first words uttered of Well Enough, there are few lows or highs from there to provide contrast. When a song is given a pattern, it sticks with it.
On the upside, it’s very soothing and gentle, and strangely consistent. On the downside, it can be hard to hold attention. If one song doesn’t reel you in, none of the others likely will either.
But to those whose attention Lions catches, it can be very worthwhile as the record is filled with beautiful songs made up of simple melodies that cut through the baggage and dig deep. For me, it’s one of the best folk records I’ve come across in years and is easily among the top for the year so far.
And for the record, the song that caught my attention was Fortune. (video below)