The Unthanks — Last 

No better synopsis exists, as this sparse folk disc deals almost exclusively in exquisite misery. It’s a downtrodden affair, but it’s oh-so-gorgeous while being gray.

Rachel and Becky Unthank (their real name!) are the driving force behind the band, as their pristine, incredibly British vocals dominate the proceedings. Their lovely accents are a boon for Anglophiles, while the songwriting will excite fans of early British folk music. This group doesn’t stray far from a pastoral, rural sound that music listeners associate with old music from the British Isles. 

The arrangements are spare, often confined to a piano, voice and a select accompaniment instrument. This lets the sadness be hindered by nothing but the number of ballads a listener can handle, nearly designed to dredge up any instance of sorrow in your recent times and magnify it.

“Canny Hobbie Elliot” is a rare beam of sunshine across the moor, and its mandolin and violin are a welcome respite. But it’s in the lowest moments that their best melodies and moods come out; from “Gan to the Kye” to “Starless” (!) to “No One Knows I’m Gone” (!!), “Last” is brilliant when brooding, and greatest when gloomy. —Stephen Carradini

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