Album Review: Emily Barker – A Dark Murmuration Of Words

Emily Barker returns with one of her most stunning releases yet, on new label Thirty Tigers. 

On 4 September, Australian-born singer-songwriter Emily Barker will be releasing her fourth studio album, and first with new label Thirty Tigers. A Dark Murmuration Of Words is an eerie, beautiful collection of songs that dive deep into Barker’s thoughts on love, sexism, racism, society and more.

Produced by Greg Freeman (Portico Quartet, Peter Gabriel, Amy Winehouse) and recorded with an incredible band featuring Rob Pemberton (drums, percussion, synth, backing vocals), Lukas Drinkwater (bass, guitars, backing vocals), Pete Roe (guitars, keys, backing vocals), Misha Law and Emily Hall (strings), A Dark Murmuration of Words searches for the invisible connections that shape a rapidly shifting modern world.

Recorded at StudiOwz in Pembrokeshire, Wales, the album shares stories on the backdrop of stellar and elevated folk-Americana. If you want protest songs to be loud and punk and in-your-face, this album isn’t for you. If however, you do like your protest songs to also come in the shape of calm melodies with inspiring stories behind them then A Dark Murmuration Of Words is your record.

The Woman Who Planted Trees for example, inspired by Kenyan activist Wangari Maathai, who founded The Green Belt Movement in order to reforest degraded land to provide food and empower women in her community, sees Barker’s enchanting vocals take the listener to a place of empowerment, grounding and strength.

Of the single Emily said, “I grew up planting trees with my family along the Blackwood River to help prevent erosion, and in barren paddocks that had been cleared for livestock during colonisation,” she added, “Those lessons stuck with me and I’ve continued to support tree-planting schemes, especially in Australia where there are huge problems with salinity due to swathes of land being cleared by the early settlers.”

On Strange Weather, Barker tells a tale of climate change in what starts out as a seemingly innocent lullaby to an unborn child, but turns into an apology-like cry about the earth she’s leaving for her child. “There is much I wish to tell you when I walk you through the past, through the beautiful places we thought would always last.”

The following Machine marks one of the most politically charged track. Even without listening to the lyrics, the marching and gospel melodies paint a clear picture. Shining a light on the topical, and harrowing history of slavery and the effects it’s still having today, especially for African-Americans, the song hits deep and will really have you check your privilege, and somehow feels ironically more educated than some of the highest powers in the US government.  Lyrics like “I covered all my tracks in books on history. Justified my actions through anthropology. I chose what to remember and what we should forget…” truly reflects the history of white privilege and thoughtfully but at the same time provokingly asks the listener to change their ways. 

Closing A Dark Murmuration Of Words is the piano-heavy Sonogram. Feeling heavy and airy at the same time, the track benefits hugely off Barker’s soft, and almost whispered vocals whilst still bringing full force.

With A Dark Murmuration Of Words, Emily Barker has released one of the best albums of her career and it’s one that, if you love folk and Americana, and generally good music, should find its way into your record collection.