Van William – Countries (Album Review)

Van William; a man with a passion for songwriting which has seen him tour the world, although this was never part of his big life plan. Having grown up in California and working on his father’s fishing boat in Alaska every Summer, William’s intention for the future was to take over the business and carry on his father’s work. However a decision from his father to retire and sell the boat drove William to focus on his musical career. With nothing to fall back on, the songwriter took his love of song craft forward to write and record his melodic debut Countries.

The main theme of the album is heartbreak; maybe over the loss of the boat and all the memories that come with it, but also the ending of a six year relationship. Written in seclusion, William lets his thoughts and feelings loose, but stops short of totally bumming us out. While the lyrics speak strongly of loss and heartbreak, the recording, which took place among friends at a local studio in California, adds a touch of fun to the album. You can almost feel William’s mood lifting with the help of his companions, and despite the predictably traditional sound overall, there is a real sense of magic to the record.

William has revealed his “idea of two people in a relationship acting as separate countries”, particularly in the current political climate of his own country. He relates the experience of his last relationship to different countries trying to figure out how to get along. It is a topic that has the potential to get real dark, particularly on a lyrical note, but the typical country tone of the music keeps it relatively upbeat. This theme is ventured strongly in ‘Revolution’, a track which features the sweet folk sounds of Swedish duo First Aid Kit, as it goes through two people, or indeed countries, not seeing eye to eye, ultimately leading to the end of a relationship.

For the most part, Countries is a little light and fluffy, but there is something really striking about a little track in the middle, ‘Don’t Take My Love’. It is as if this point of the album is the lowest of the lows, before the highs to come, and there is something devastatingly beautiful about that. This is one that goes beyond the lyrics, the tone carries the most emotional strain, stirring up your own feelings simply with its stark contrast to the rest of the album.

Things take a lighter note as we hit ‘Skyward’, a track that soars to greater heights, a lift in his mood with an intensifying build up to the future. ‘You’ll Be On My Mind’ nips in to recall the sorrow; “somewhere behind my eyes, you’ll be on my mind// all my life. The last three words repeat throughout the song, a gentle reminder of that special someone’s significance, even as life goes on.

This is an album that comes straight from the heart, honest and warm. The passion that William is relying so heavily on is surely alive and exceptionally powerful. Predictably traditional it may be, but Countries is a small delight with hidden perks and a truly relatable grip on the one thing that hurts us most.

Countries is out now via Fantasy Records.