Debs McCoy: Silent The Corner
I don’t know if it’s age, new fatherhood, some deep psychic need for contemplation and peace, or a combination of them all, but I’ve been drawn to much more quiet and gentle music recently. Now that is not to say boring. You can be raucous, frenetic, and boring, and you can be gentle and quiet, and still capture and hold my attention.
That’s where Debs McCoy comes in. A musician and artist based in the UK NE covering many disciplines, her music is a mix of folk guitar, layered piano, trance-like rhythms, and her own voice, which weaves among the other elements in a quite haunting way.
Her album ‘Silent The Corner’ was released in 2013, but it’s taken me this long to get to write about it. The conditions had to be right (see above). It was released as a collection in two halves: one half acoustic folk with textural elements, one half more cinematic instrumental pieces.
I’m not a big vocals fan, as you may know. I tend to treat the voice in music I listen to as just another sound – I don’t tend to catch lyrics (again, this may be due to age). In addition, I have to admit I don’t have the vocabulary (musical or emotional) to describe this music. I will probably embarrass myself by referencing styles and techniques at odds with what Debs is doing, or revealing I could go my usual route of writing down what the instruments were and how they interlace. But that would not do this music justice (and I’m sure you’re sick of it anyway). So please bear with me as I wade into unfamiliar waters, trying to describe how the songs make me feel.
A spoken phrase, a strummed guitar, a cello, even the “tape” noise adds to the atmosphere of opener ‘Propagate’. The song mentions sunshine, wind, leaves, and brings to mind walking in the stark low winter sun.The strummed guitar is joined by a tambourine in ‘Wendy’ giving a little Western tinge to the song.
‘Beauty, Majesty & Drama’ is something different, and one of my favourite tracks on the album. The instrumentation is the same, but the vocals are more dramatic as the name suggests. The lyrics deal with the artistic process, as a face is drawn and changed. The artist’s relationship with the subject is touched upon. The song is reworked with piano and cello later on the album, to great effect. It transforms into a more melancholic version of itself. Perhaps from the POV of the artist’s subject?
The title track blends close lyrics, simple synth textures and cello into an intimate lullaby, while single piano notes over guitar give ‘Ruben’ a Mountain Goats feel. The subject is lying about their identity, but the singer knows better.
Train rides always provide good backdrops for gentle thoughtful songs. ‘Recoil’ is no exception. This journey is one to a gathering of people, but the narrator still feels alone, trapped outside. This is a very personal song, clearly, and the simplicity of the voice and guitar bring us into her confidence. The voice is closer and gentler than ever, with an almost childlike feel to it, on ‘Sound Carrying Flowers’. The piano beneath sounds like it is taking the singer’s hand and gently guiding and encouraging them as they explore the music room.
The first of the second set of pieces, and definitely a soundtrack , ‘Insufferable’ would work over the final “climactic” scene to a grainy black and white film. Perhaps in the days after a heavy bereavement, as the character emerges back into life, bruised and sore, but somehow renewed, as the credits roll. The processed strings and piano are joined by a momentary harmonica – perhaps memories of the lost one.
Cello, electric piano, xylophone drops like rain in a simple cycling phrase, ‘Spring’ is perfect for sitting at a window with a steaming cup, waiting for the sun to break through a little. Cabin fever is at an end. ‘The Lake’ sounds like a deep family secret being revealed. Tentative piano, rumbling strings, cello, and a sense of realisation. The secret could be good or bad, or both. The excuses anchor the piece, while the repercussions ripple out, affecting many lives, in various ways. In the end, the teller is left alone on the shore.
The beautiful ‘For The Birds’ occupies the same English landscape as some tunes by BBO regulars The Advisory Circle. Trilling flutes, tinkling piano, slow pulsing bass. And finally, album closer ‘Begotten’ opens with a rotating piano line overlaid with xylophone, while the strings below provide an insistent tone. This ending sounds more like an urging or continuation, even as it closes.
Even if my feelings have not been clearly expressed here, it has had an impact on me. ‘Silent The Corner’ is a beautiful album. Buy it here. Buy Debs more recent improvised works here, especially The Therapy Sessions. Buy her box set as well.