The harmony vocal and acoustic stringed instrument quintet return with their fifth album of ornate chamber folk and bluegrass. There’s no denying the exquisite playing and arrangements on All Ashore but for all its sensitivity and detail there’s a lack of emotional connectivity.
Punch Brothers are a band that have reached that point where their collective acclaim is now matched by the various external musical pursuits of each member. Mandolinist Chris Thile has the highest profile of the group but all have struck up creative partnerships with other songwriters and musicians with fine results. Freshly reconvened, they again showcase their sublime interplay, weaving dancing filigrees of sprightly melodies, whether in slowly unfurling passages or frenetic flurries of notes. The baroque jazz and classical flavours are still evident and the instrumental tracks such as ‘Three Dots And A Dash’ and ‘Jungle Bird’ are jaw dropping and invigorating. The problems come with the vocals. They always feel like the weak link – like a neutered Grizzly Bear or Bon Iver. The title of ‘The Angel Of Doubt’ could be taken as a comment on its cringeworthy attempt at scat/rap.
There’s a whiff of conservatorium pretence across much of All Ashore that detracts from its often truly beautiful and adventurous playing. ‘The Gardener’ best exemplifies when the vocal/instrument blend works though unfortunately its five minutes are overwhelmingly in the minority on an album that fails to make landfall.