THIS WEEK’S NEW ALBUMS REVIEWED | FEATURE
Deep England (NYX Collective)
Perhaps related to our fraught contemporary sociopolitical climate, there seems to have been a recent resurgence of interest in the more esoteric corners of British identity. From the magazine Weird Walk to the fashion brand Heresy to the revival of folk horror cinema, something strange is afoot in post-Brexit, post-truth Great Britain.
To add to this wyrd bunch is Gazelle Twin & NYX’s [pictured, top] Deep England. A reworking of tracks from electronica experimentalist Gazelle Twin’s 2018 album Pastoral by the drone collective NYX, Deep England is a mysterious and provocative rumination on a cultural identity in crisis. Its musical language is that of two worlds colliding, fusing ancient and pagan melodies with bold, electronic soundscapes. This meeting fuses quite brilliantly, yet also speaks of a brooding darkness, a physical and psychological landscape fraught with angst and turmoil.
Gazelle Twin & NYX envisage a land at war with itself, but one also rich with wonder and mystery. Jerusalem filters William Blake’s famous poem through a haze of voices, seemingly lost in time and space, while Better In My Day is a muscular techno assault leaden with acidic social satire. All eight tracks are poignant, complicated and disturbing, fractured soundscapes that represent a similarly damaged national headspace.
words TOM MORGAN
In A Deep And Dreamless Sleep (Western Vinyl)
In A Deep And Dreamless Sleep opens with A Rising Sun, a track that sets the listener up for what’s to come from the Portland duo’s new album. Acoustic guitar loops backed with crackling static give way to waves of ambience and ethereal vocals, with analog synths adding textures to the mix. The rest of the album is in much of the same vein, and anybody familiar with chillwave or dream pop will know what to expect.
This type of music can be hard to assess: it relies on ambience and textures rather than catchy hooks, so does all tend to blend together in a pleasant, dreamy haze. The press release states that the duo relied more on a stream-of-consciousness, free-flowing approach to this record than their previous work, and it clearly shows. Even the single Black Maps doesn’t particularly stand out from the crowd, but overall, the album is quite an enjoyable listen. It can fill the same function as those ‘lo-fi beats to relax/study to’ videos you see on YouTube – throw it on in the background to chill out and you’ll be happy enough.
words MATT LEE
Where The Dead Birds Go (Mega Dodo/Billywitch)
When you get a press release touting influences as diverse as Oliver Postgate, Sparklehorse and Lee Hazelwood, then, dear reader, you are getting me all kinds of excited. Nutter, the second song on the first album by Moth Man, doesn’t disappoint, Simon Findlay’s baritone croon instructing the humble listener to beware of who might be around the corner over an arrangement that brings to mind Richard Hawley at his most rainswept. Nails is a sinister little song that starts out like a lost theme to a late sixties film about sexy French spies but doesn’t really go anywhere.
The Water similarly meanders pleasantly but meaninglessly, sounding as bored as a Black (ask your grandad) B-side from 1987. Train Song chugs along in a way as inoffensively and uninterestingly as its title and self-referential closer Moth Man sounds like an early acoustic Beta Band but never gets quite experimental enough, merely content to peter out with some birdsong and gentle handclaps. Fantastic influences, desperately underwhelming songs. Great album title though.
words PAUL JENKINS
Zoom In EP (Universal)
Ahead of celebrating 30 years of The All Starrs, Ringo Starr, ex-Beatle and perhaps unlikely band leader, extends his supergroup with a host of guests on this five-song EP. Opener Here’s To The Nights boasts the most, with past collaborators McCartney and Jo Walsh amongst the many vocalists on writer Dianne Warren’s nostalgia trip. For me, the greatest guest is The Doors’ Robbie Krieger, who brings his trademark slide stylings to Zoom In Zoom Out, elevating the otherwise twee sentiments of reaching for distant stars.
Teach Me To Tango is great fun and gives the EP a lift just when it needs it. Ringo gets a co-write – the rarest of things in the days of his most famous band – with longtime collaborator and engineer Bruce Sugar on Waiting For The Tide To Turn: a reggae tune helped by Starr’s great rhythmic feel alongside the pairing of bass session legend Nathan East and the guitar shanks of Jamaican great Tony Chin. Closer Not Enough Love In The World wraps up a short set that couldn’t be more Ringo if it tried.
Starr’s vocals are as unassuming and characterful as you would expect and his drumming, it should be noted, is superb throughout. Love and optimism shine through, despite the analysis of modern life’s selfishness. But it is Ringo’s ability to bring together so many outstanding players and writers to create a unified whole that is his true, ahem, Starr power.
words JOHN-PAUL DAVIES
Great Spans Of Muddy Time (Tough Love)
If my hard drive were to suffer catastrophic failure, the result would be a voluminous torrent of colourful language, not a frequently dazzling art-pop album. Fair play to William Doyle, then, for finding the experience freeing and inspirational.
Great Spans Of Muddy Time gets off to a flyer with the synth chimes and extraordinary sit-bolt-upright-and-hang-on-every-word lyrics of I Need To Keep You In My Life – seemingly a lament for the intimate interpersonal connections that lockdown has deprived us of by reducing loved ones to pixelated 2D images on computer and mobile screens (“I won’t let you become avatarred / The grains that make you up are too charged”). And Everything Changed (But I Feel Alright) and Nothing At All – the latter a self-consciously wordy song about inarticulacy – are charmingly arch, intellectualist pop, while Rainfalls is a Rufus Wainwright song brilliantly reimagined by Thom Yorke.
Sadly, though, the album frustrates almost as much as it thrills – especially the instrumentals, which (the warm washes of album closer [a sea of thoughts behind it] aside) feel less like pleasing interludes or segues and more like unwelcome interruptions. Or muddy times amid the otherwise great span, to put it another way.
words BEN WOOLHEAD