I’ve not known a March like this one past, cruel and bitter under a pall of grey skies. The month started with a promise of spring. We walked in slanting sunlight across the top of Hockley viaduct, hooting, miming trains. Beneath the arching brickwork the Itchen had burst its banks. The water meadows, green and sharp, brimmed with pools of sunbright water. We parted for shrieking cyclists and R tumbled with flat hands on the cold concrete. On an old siding, under a stand of fruiting hazels busy with flitting goldcrests, we saw a discarded hub cap, home to a colony of snails. There came two days of bright sun, the air bearing the first slight signs of the spring thickening – birdsong, pollensong. We waited. Then came the whispers of returning winter. Cold air from the east, bearing snow and arctic temperatures.
The cold came in overnight, a giant storm from the north east swirling across northern Europe and up across the channel islands. The air was raw and metallic, dawnlight bringing with it a purple glow that fanned out across the underside of the roof of clouds – a roof that was to stay with us for pretty much the rest of the month, yielding little, if any, rain. That day it snowed for a good 3 or 4 hours, the air thick with it. Sheltering under a canopy of arching oaks, I could almost feel the ground contracting, the newgrowth shrinking back into itself. The birds had fallen silent.
That night the storm roared around the house. I came up from sleep, dimly aware of a muffled banging. I mentally travelled the hanging air from corner to corner of the house, but couldn’t make sense of where it was coming from. I came down the stairs feeling unmoored. It was as if the interior air itself were disturbed, displaced by the ferocity outside. I opened the back door and I felt the house gather itself around me as the night, blackly malevolent, seemed to force its way in. I waded out into the liquid dark and secured the door with a bag of cement dust that, disturbed by the whipping wind, puffed motes into the air that were sucked away into the darkness.
This air from the east stayed for the rest of the month and on into April. It brought with it ghostly remnants of its provenance, a taiga-born density of cold, a breath of ice. The brute cold settled into the heart of things; objects carried a new kind of weight, as if they’d been penetrated to a molecular level. As such, the usual spring signifiers remained resolutely enfolded, the hedges and banks dull of colour, the woods silent, arenas of felt absence. Everything felt held in abeyance, waiting, waiting. In the middle of the month, I was in the Cotswolds and the weather broke for a single day. It was as if the earth threw off a layer. Huge flocks of fieldfares and redwings broke cover, driven by a frantic impulse to begin their homeward journeys; the sky was a holding-pattern of hungry red kites, all monitoring their territories for carrion; usually elusive jays dropped from the bare oaks and pecked at the raw ground. The following morning it snowed again, and the earth re-enfolded itself.
At the beginning of April, finally there came a day warm enough to stand still. I headed into the woods with the boy on his scooter. We were looking for the bluebells, usually ‘up’ by now, washing the beechwood floor with their smudges of purple. The air had lost some of its edges, and a thick greyish haze hung over the fields and distant stands of trees. We wondered together if it was pollen, or if the heat had stirred up clouds of sleeping insects? As if in answer, we saw a solitary housemartin, the first of spring. The beechwood was cool and clear, and free of the nodding bluebells. The floor, though, was carpeted with the glossy green leaves. The bluebells would come, but like everything else held in the cold paralysis, they would come late. No matter. A ragged silver-birch, multi-trunked and choked with ivy, showed signs of fresh excavations in its hollowed out base. We sat and ate jaffa cakes idly wondering if the culprit might show itself. The sky purpled above us. It quickly became grippingly cold. We headed home across a bone-hard field, out, out of the mineral wind.
Mountain*7 - for the person with nothing better to do
Title: The Withdrawing Room
Artist: Mary Lattimore
Label: Desire Path
This also appeared at the Liminal.
There’s a lot to be said for living with a record for a period of months before trying to write something coherent about it. You build a series of reference points and a haze of ideas, some of which get picked up from various sources, others of which you either invent yourself, or grow out of a vague mulch of experience and data gathering. The Withdrawing Room, the debut album from Mary Lattimore, a Philadelphia based harpist, has been a signature example of this. And the name I keep coming back to is Emily Dickinson. There’s something in the title that is very Dickinsonian, for sure (that sense of self-imposed isolation and pent up desire), and this is carried over into the music, which, on the surface, is similarly austere and controlled, but out of which streams great gouts of passion and a kind of billowing, engulfing numinosity. Lattimore’s method is to use long form compositions and to follow simple melodic progressions until they fracture and spread. In places, such as on the opening track (‘You’ll Be Fiiinnne’, at 24 minutes), Jeff Ziegler, her long-time collaborator, adds to this spreading effect via the subtle warping intrusions of his korg mono/poly synth. The effect is like throwing open the windows of solitude and letting the outside world in, with the synth bubbling and whistling like so many wheeling birds. Other touch points I’ve heard mentioned are more by association than anything else, ie woman + harp, well it must be like Joanna Newsom or even Alice Coltrane. Neither comparison is particularly useful or accurate, though if you were to plump for one, then perhaps the latter Ashram recordings of Alice Coltrane might function as a useful signifier in terms of Lattimore’s New Age leanings. Bucketful of reference points aside, the truth of it is that The Withdrawing Room is an original and quietly beautiful album that continues to reveal itself over many listens and is another triumph for the excellent Desire Path label.
He knew better than to admire a chair and say
What does it mean?
He loved everything that accepted the unfailing hospitality of his
five senses. He would say Hello, caterpillar or So long, Loch Fewin.
He wanted to know how they came to be what they are: But he
never insulted them by saying Caterpillar, Loch Fewin, what do
In this respect he was like God, though he was godless – He knew the difference between What does it mean to me? and What does it mean?
That’s why he said, half smiling, Of course, God, like me, is an atheist.
The doctor was thinking: All this fantastic effort, giant machines, road networks, strip mines, conveyor belt, pipelines, slurry lines, loading towers, railway and electric train, hundred-million-dollar coal-burning power plant; ten thousand miles of high-tension towers and high-voltage power lines; the devastation of the landscape, the destruction of Indian homes and Indian grazing lands, Indian shrines and Indian burial grounds; the poisoning of the last clean-air reservoir in the forty-eight contiguous United States, the exhaustion of precious water supplies - all that ball-breaking labour and all that backbreaking expense and all that heartbreaking insult to land and sky and human heart, for what? All that for what? Why, to light the lamps of Phoenix suburbs not yet built, to run the air conditioners of San Diego and Los Angeles, to illuminate shopping-center parking lots at two in the morning, to power aluminium plants, magnesium plants, vinyl-chloride factories and copper smelters, to charge the neon tubing that makes the meaning (all the meaning there is) of Las Vegas, Albuquerque, Tucson, Salt Lake City, the amalgamated metropoli of Southern California, to keep alive the phosphorescent putrefying glory (all the glory there is left) called Down Town, Night Time, Wonderville, U.S.A.
Edward Abbey, The Monkey Wrench Gang
Title: The End
Artist: Black Boned Angel
Label: Handmade Birds
This first appeared at the Liminal.
Campbell Kneale has been exploring the potential of the drone for more than 15 years now (in terms of releases, at least – before that, in the wilds of New Zealand and the wilds of interiority, who knows?). In high flung terms, his explorations call for a re-scaling of the word epic, a re-calibration of what’s possible in terms of sheer endurance, not to mention our very understanding of the phenomenological potential of the extended note and its psychedelic implications; more crassly put, his work is monstrous and alluring and repulsive in equal measure – and no more so than with his doom project, Black Boned Angel.
Kneale started Black Boned Angel 10 years ago as a duo along with James Kirk (more recently the band has incorporated Jules Desmond and Anthony Milton), the act creating blackened doom music, a kind of purist metal drone built around those early Earth recordings and the more unadorned Sunn O))) releases. There has always been something of a grand gothic edge to them, too – in the stage imagery, the backgrounded ranks of choral voices, and the themes of their records: Supereclipse, The Witch Must Be Killed, Verdun. Now the band have decided to call it a day, and The End is to be their last album, their epitaph. And it’s as if this has freed them up, somehow, given them an impetus to throw everything skyward, because that aforementioned grandeur is very much apparent, making The End an emotional masterpiece as well as one concerned with exploring the crushing sonic possibilities of all out heaviness.
The End is in three-parts, which add up to over an hour of music. It’s gruelling, yes, but that’s part of the point. A good chunk of Kneale’s aesthetic has always been invested in making you experience his time, so the listening experience is something akin to surrender. ‘Part 1’ is a magmatic, elephantine thing, guitar noise ripped to bursting point hoisted on blackened shrieks and Nadja-style programmed drums. This gives way, in ‘Part 2’, to something more unsettling, with swirling metallic drones and churning disembodied voices, like a choir buried hundreds of miles deep in the ground. The grinding riff, when it comes, is almost a relief. And it’s here that the emotional heft becomes really apparent, with the guitars buoyed by a vast organ patter that eventually decays into a simple fugue state lit by a simple piano figure. The closest comparison I can think of in recent times, in tone if not always in content, is another swansong – that of Corrupted, whose Garten der Unbewusstheit from 2011 had a similar soaring trajectory.
‘Part 3’ is built around another sludgy chord pattern that’s more lava flow than riff, above which flits a choral line treated until it becomes an almost theremin-like warble. Similar to ‘Part 2’ the track devolves into rubble and decay, as if the sonic fabric were unable to bear up under the strain. Which kind of adds up in terms of an elegy for Black Boned Angel; and there’s an admirable restraint in realising an idea has been pushed as far as it can go. The End stands (and crumbles) as a definitive final statement.