There’s something different about The Rails on their brilliant third album. It’s not just the sound of the record, which is harder, tougher and rockier than ever before. Cancel The Sun is melodic and immediate, a record that brings together the musical pasts of Kami Thompson and James Walbourne – her family heritage, as the daughter of Linda and Richard Thompson, and sister of Teddy; his as guitarist for Son Volt, The Pogues and The Pretenders – in a record that sounds like a pure version of themselves. You could spend hours casting around for a term to describe it, but maybe the best one would be pinched from an Eliza Carthy album title: Anglicana – music that might originate in America, but is clearly and resolutely English. “It’s a distillation of influences,” Thompson says. “In an English still.”
Cancel The Sun isn’t a completely new departure form their first two albums, but it sounds as though Thompson and Walbourne have relaxed into doing the things they do best: those glistening harmonies are draped across the album like velvet. “We sing together, and we can’t wait till the other one joins in,” Walbourne says. “That is something that's great and very natural, and we can telepathically do it now, which is a great thing to be able to do with someone. I don't get that from anyone else”.
Where 2014’s Fair Warning was a gorgeous revival of the classic English folk-rock sound (issued on Island’s pink label for full attention to period detail), and 2017’s Other People found Walbourne turning more to electric guitar, Cancel the Sun is a kaleidoscopic offering. Twisting it’s way through decades of sounds often conventionally siloed from one another, Cancel The Sun is colored in hues of 90’s alternative guitar pop (Call Me When It All Goes Wrong; Ball & Chain), 60’s English baroque (Dictator), gorgeous country balladry (Something Is Slipping My Mind), and, still, an undying folk influence (Mossy Well; Leave Here Alone). “This is a big step forward for us,” Thompson says. “It's the sum of our parts. We were freed up by working better together to draw in our influences.” Cancel The Sun is perhaps most indebted to fellow north Londoners, the Kinks, not in sound but in it’s spirit and the band’s desire to cast far and wide to make the music they want, without sacrificing their individuality. “It's that English eccentric thing they had,” Thompson says. “They they were so fearlessly themselves. We drew inspiration and confidence from that to forge ahead on our own path.” The result belongs on the shelf next to Aimee Mann’s best work, itches like it was bitten by Blur, and resonates with the frequencies of The Cranberries at the height of their dark experimental prowess, without ever once losing the sense that it belongs to the pantheon of British folk.
“For this record the songs came a bit easier,” Walbourne says. “The melodies came fast because I used a different approach to writing: I plug in an electric guitar, headphones and a mic and sing. So the shackles have fallen off a bit, and it's been a joyful experience. It was a whole new approach, and it seems to have worked between us.” Also, despite them being married, Cancel The Sun is the first Rails album on which the pair have written together. “I generally write fairly morbid stuff,” Thompson says. “Always have done. That's what I find interesting. James is probably a bit more of a storyteller. As an objective observer, I'd say there's a real thread of people in his songs, whereas I'm more introverted and abstract.” “She's a very dark lady,” Walbourne says. “I can be dark too, but what I’ve tried to do is offset the dark lyrics with a more upbeat song.” Cancel The Sun shows a greater confidence in songwriting and arrangement. Walbourne says that where once he had felt intimidated by having played with some of modern music’s great songwriters – Jay Farrar, Shane MacGowan, Chrissie Hynde – now he’s able to use what he learned from them without trying to copy. And being in The Pretenders enabled him to “cut loose” on the electric guitar in a way he had been reluctant to with The Rails. “I think I've definitely found my own voice now.”
Recorded in London in the spring of 2019, the album was helmed by producer Stephen Street (The Smiths, The Cranberries, Blur), who helped The Rails connect with their musical lineage, highlighting the strength of Walbourne’s guitar playing. As a result, Cancel The Sun sounds both classic and timeless – a rare and genuine offering in an age of easy imitations, equally satisfying for guitar lovers and anyone looking for a fresh, summer road trip soundtrack. “Folk rock is a very niche thing,” says Walbourne. “I never signed up to play the acoustic guitar exclusively. I like to plug in and be loud.” And, as Thompson points out, on each of the previous albums there were songs that pointed the way forward for the next one. For The Rails and their fans, Cancel The Sun isn’t a renunciation, it’s a progression. By its sharp, wide, and enjoyable formidability, it stands to reason that Cancel the Sun will not only push the band forward, but modern British music itself.
1. Call Me When It All Goes Wrong
2. Mossy Well
3. Save The Planet
4. The Inheritance
6. Ball And Chain
7. Something Is Slipping My Mind
8. Waiting On Something
9. Leave Here Alone
10. Cancel The Sun