Ancient and modern forces meet for a richly elegiac take on English folk.
As usual over winter I've ended up with a backlog of music to write about. Christmas, the usual bouts of family illness, work commitments and the shorter hours of daylight and resulting tiredness always seem to conspire against me. The result is less time and energy to devote to writing. So first an apology to the amazing musicians and labels that have sent me music recently. I have however had lots of great albums to listen to and absorb, this release by Stick In The Wheel being one brilliant example.
It's the band's second mixtape release, following on from 2018's This and The Memory of This. These mixtape releases are an opportunity for the core duo of Nicola Kearey and Ian Carter (EAN) to collaborate with guest players, either using their own material as a starting point, or remixing and adding to music created by the guest musicians. The duo also have two studio albums to their name – From Here (2018), and Follow Them True (2018). I confess to being unfamiliar with their previous work so this record marks my first encounter with Stick In The Wheel.
Their music is rooted in the melodies of traditional English folk music, but this is no backward yearning for car-less yesterday. Each track has a seam of of modern electronic music. Drones, strange beat-less pulses push each track into strange new territories. A strong melancholy permeates the album, which features appearances and collaborations with artists such as experimental folk guitarist C Joynes, Jack Sharp (Wolf People), and folk-punk outfit Cinder Well. Using mostly traditional material as their staring point the album contains versions 'Nine Herbs Charm', a 10th century spell translated from Old English, the 14th century alliterative poem 'Swarte Smiths, Smateryd With Smoke', and an improvised take on Child ballad 'Georgie'. Also highly recommended are the two bookending versions of 'Down In Yon Forest', which set the medieval pagan theme that permeates the whole album.
One thing about music is that it can compliment other things going on in your life, and chime perfectly with landscape, seasons, weather, and even the moods accompanied by your current reading habits. While enjoying the album over mid-winter I was simultaneously reading Laurie Lee's As I Walked Out One Midsummer Morning, his account of leaving his Gloucestershire village in the 1930s, working as a labourer in London, then walking through Spain, earning a living playing violin as he goes, at the outset of the Spanish Civil War. While the traditional music of Spain and Old England may not have too much in common there are parallels to be drawn and highlighted here. Ditto the respective mood of the nations. The sense of foreboding in Lee's book chimes with the timeless melancholy found throughout Against The Loathsome Beyond. Spain in the 1930s, along with contemporary Britain found themselves divided and with dark forces emboldened. Both countries possess a proud and stirring musical heritage, each infused with a passion that's celebratory yet full of warning. Against The Loathsome Beyond has been a strangely fitting accompaniment to Lee's book and one I highly recommend to readers of this humble blog.
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Click here for From Here Records.