Sussex-born musician RISE—aka Jo Beth Young—is standing on the precipice of greatness and adoration. A nurtured talent echoes within every inch of her latest album Strangers. This, the follow-up to acclaimed 2018 record An Abandoned Orchid House, takes us deeper into the chasm of the her creativity. A kaleidoscope of spiritual energy builds, fusing neo-folk and progressive rock, finally colliding in a conceptual Gothic opera. The voice of RISE is hypnotic and inspiring, capable of shifting from hopelessness to transcendent joy mid-sentence.
In the past month, RISE explored her sound on the EP Splinters, a collaboration with guitarist Peter Yates (Fields Of The Nephilim). Fresh from this success, RISE certainly wasted no time in issuing Strangers. An album similar in scale to her previous, but with a maturity and confidence that becomes further engrossing with each listen. Strangers opens with the hauntingly beautiful ‘Dark Cloud’. Surrounded by lush strings and lonesome piano, it builds in intensity as the pace quickens with the theme. All the while the soaring passion of her voice is projected gracefully.
Next is ‘Temples’, with a minimalist turn after the glorious choral sections. It’s as if Leonard Cohen has been resurrected. Here is a painful plea of love, captured in lyrics aching from the soul of a woman who knows what it’s like to be heartbroken. At times, an engaging pop sensibility is apparent. On ‘Cry Back Moon’, RISE becomes more translucent, while keeping the same momentum. The guitar of musical collaborator Peter Yates often creeps into proceedings as well, adding its own raw statement.
At the midpoint comes ‘Rabbit Eyes’, the shortest track on the collection. It’s intertwined with a new-wave air and this is where her talent to conjure a song truly manifests itself. Because modern music can, at times, be easy to pigeonhole into a genre, a track which defies genre is an enlightening experience. The creative genius of her lyrics is front and centre here—as it is throughout.
The addictive ‘Radio Silence’ is a slice of alternative rock brilliance. Starting out with an organic rhythm, it soon switches direction with a collision between electric and acoustic instruments. RISE is in full bombastic mode on this album highlight.
In a time of political upheaval, this album is escapism through art, an adventure into a beautiful world where clarity comes with sound. This is compounded by elements of progressive-folk, prevalent on the likes of title track ‘Strangers’, for example. Elsewhere, ‘Sky Sailing’ sees RISE take us on a dreamlike journey, echoing, once again, the loneliness of the world.
The mammoth closer, ‘The Old Sewing Woman’s Song’, floats on melodic piano keys, opening a portal to the dimension inhabited by RISE’s firing passions. It’s a fairytale, but it’s defined by the need for isolation. Isolation from a nightmare world of insanity—a culmination of the album’s narrative journey.
A collection of influences surface throughout. From Kate Bush to Tori Amos and into the realm of Siouxsie Sioux—all while remaining uniquely RISE. Fans of the aforementioned trio will be in their element here, finding a wholesome collection of tracks worthy of solid rotation. RISE is an artist who possesses prowess in her fearlessness. Regardless of comparisons for the sake of understanding, Strangers is a well-executed lesson in capturing emotions and relaying them to an audience. It’s certainly a worthwhile listen, elevated by innovative song structures.