This is an album about the English countryside, something I like to think I’m not really interested in.* But one of the first sounds you hear on this album of voices, found sounds and music is a car whooshing past (on ‘Dedham Vale’), and second track ‘Imber & Tyneham’ sounds like a folksong played by No Age, guitar and drums rattling through the track before ending in a looped peal of bells. The rhythm of ‘Bacup / Knaresborough’ is supplied by live firing, or perhaps firecrackers, looped. No idylls here, then, but ‘pastoral punk’, a curious, thoughtful set of songs about those other countrysides: villages seized by the MOD or abandoned in the middle ages, lost to the war or the waves. Christopher Tipton and Claire Titley founded Upset The Rhythm and this album shares that superb label’s qualities: it taps into a vein of genuinely creative, challenging English artistic work, but is not in the least precious or pretentious. Declaimed words over music that sounds like it is always on the edge of falling apart; in places it reminded me of the Blue Aeroplanes’ reading of Auden’s ‘Journal of An Airman’. In the end it’s the combination of the very ordinary and the very weird that stays with you, as on ‘Sipson’ where we are told “Please drive slowly through this village” and then that there are “dangerous substances, explosive atmospheres”. As this suggests, the lyrics respond to place, to signs and notices and overheard fragments. ‘Westonzoyland’ in particular sounds like notes from an old notebook. It does not come as much of surprise to discover that there is a map of the album.
I could write an essay on each of the thirteen tracks. As ‘Roughting Linn’ shows, though, this is also an album that reels you in with rhythms, sounds, and words.
*I’m not much of an urbanist either.