Like a bunch of genetic scientists beavering away in secret laboratories, for the last decade The Imagined Village have been exploring the secrets of splicing the core sounds of folk and world music into new musical forms. This, their third album, Bending the Dark, is the biggest success story so far. Like Simon Emmerson’s Afro-Celt Sound System which came before it, The Imagined Village is a fluid collaboration of musical explorers that changes with each album, even each gig, and I suspect that it is because of this approach rather than despite of it, that the musical scope of the band remains so varied.
At it’s heart is English folk music, but it is from a desire to move away from the twee, Arran sweater, pipe smoking, finger in the ear, beardy traditions of the genre’s past and fuse it with roots music from across the globe that it gains its strength. It can also be seen as a musical essay on Englishness, multi-culturalism and how traditional music, like the country itself, assimilates and evolves from these new contributions.
Despite calling on the strengths of many of its individual players, it is when the cultures are truly married that their sound really soars. Less concerned with re-workings of Martin Carthy’s repertoire the fact that they now write as a band is paying dividends. Songs like The Guvna with it’s dub beats, Celtic melodies and Asian vibes not only make for cracking songs but enable you to meditate on the fact that we live in a country that now naturally throws such music together. The highlight of the album is the title track itself, a song which seems to encompass everything that the band are about.
The winning factor is that it never appears to be forced. Listening to some old interviews with the band you get a feel for the fact that this isn’t a deliberate project but just the product of today’s society. If Afro-Celt Sound System was the result of a group of guys who were friends first and musicians second each bringing some of their own musical surroundings into the band, The Imagined Village is merely an extension of that. And as one of them pointed out, it is not a band that needs to be defined in terms of being worthy, heralded or necessary. It is just a band with a sound whose existence was inevitable.