Artist: Sleeping States
Album: In the Gardens of the North
Label: Bella Union
Forest Fire review up over there (La Blogotheque gave this album of the year, Rough Trade album of the week. I must confess to feeling slightly bemused by it. OK, but a bit of a mess, generally); Sleeping States review over there too, and below.
The now mostly ignored English novelist Henry Green once described his writing style as like a ‘long intimacy between strangers with no direct appeal to what both may have known. It should slowly appeal to feelings unexpressed, it should in the end draw tears’. All of which might be a good way to describe Markland Starkie’s vaulting ambition as Sleeping States where he seems to indulge an older literary sensibility and times a near abstract painterly tug at the emotions.
Opening an album with songs dedicated to WG Sebald and Kafka – ‘Rings of Saturn’ and ‘The Next Village’ – is something of a statement of intent; and as such In the Gardens of the North is overlain with a kind of weary melancholia; and though on the surface it appears to be about the potential of movement and discovery in reality it is about immersion: in perception and environment. It’s difficult and broadly speaking, very original. I suspect it’ll get a good deal of critical acclaim and also get largely ignored. Which is a shame as it’s a record that deserves to be heard.
Starkie’s sound is a difficult one to describe. At heart it comes from a pastoral folk tradition but it has elements of the baroque to it; he also possesses a classic pop sensibility. So: a kind of dowdier Sufjan perhaps? But whereas Starkie, who is originally from London, explored a kind of idealised pastoralism in his earlier work (These Open Spaces, the previous album, released in 2007, is certainly an escapist’s tract) In the Gardens of the North is very much a product of its environment. Starkie went as far as to record it in a shack in the woods around Bristol. And as much as the flat expanses of Suffolk infected Sebald’s prose, so has the sylvan nature of the writing and recording process of …Gardens had a major influence on the sound and texture of the end product. At times, such is the mix between recording and environment, it’s almost as if it isn’t there at all. It’s a peculiar sensation. Then a figure will present itself – a simple brushed drum or one of Starkie’s signature guitar lines (such as on ‘Breathing Space’) – and the whole sound will come into focus. And in some respects the record is like a landscape: not necessarily sensed as such, but, like Green’s slow appeal, absorbed unconsciously.
The other thing the immersion in environment seems to have done to the Sleeping States sound is give it an undercurrent of menace. ‘On the Beach at Aldeburgh’ (another nod to Sebald, not to mention Brian Eno who mythologised this part of the Suffolk Coast on Ambient 4: On Land) has a Tortoise-like lurch to it, the off key guitars and muted violins like wind in the offshore buoys; ‘Showers in the Summer’, before it resolves itself into a wide-sky hymnal, is, with its bed of arpeggiated guitars, a stumble through bracken-choked woods.
All this and I feel as if I’ve barely touched the surface of things, or mentioned Starkie’s odd haunting voice – in its naked state somewhere between a less histrionic Fyfe Dangerfield and Jeff Buckley, otherwise layered and doubled into something entirely Other. In the Gardens of the North is ultimately a dense, introspective record that follows no logic except its own internal quest for resolution. Heavy with literary allusion it gives the impression of needing time to absorb and decode. Here’s hoping people take the time to give it the attention it deserves.
Download: Sleeping States - Showers In The Summer
Download: Forest Fire - Slow Motion
Mountain*7 - for the person with nothing better to do
Detroit Book Depository
Michigan Central Station
City Hall Subway
A couple of great recent galleries on ruins and abandoned buildings. The first, from Web Urbanist is a general look at the increase in ruins and our appreciation of them; the second, from the Infrastructurist site, is a look primarily at abandoned stations and their strong allure.
I just picked this up off a tweet by Joe Muggs, he of The Wire. It's a collaborative drone piece which features various individually recorded pieces (on all sorts of instruments - marimba, trumpet, guitar, clarinet) that have then been uploaded to YouTube. The videos are collected on the Bb site and you can run all or as many as you like simultaneously. The result is quite beautiful.
You can also see In Bb v1 here and a Buddha machine looped version here.
Man is separated from the past (even from the past only a few seconds old) by two forces that go instantly to work and cooperate: the force of forgetting (which erases) and the force of memory (which transforms)... Beyond the slender margin of the incontestable (there is no doubt that Napoleon lost the battle of Waterloo), stretches an infinite realm: the realm of the approximate, the invented, the deformed, the simplistic, the exaggerated, the misinformed, an infinite realm of non-truths that copulate, multiply like rats, and become immortal.
Milan Kundera, The Curtain
Eclipse - 6m 42s
Nebula NGC 6559
I routinely rediscover the NASA APOD every six months or so and promise myself I'm going to check it every day, follow the links, make myself humble. But I invariably creep away. Current events though have made me think of our place among the infinities and coming across it again today is no great surprise.
There's also a suitably epic track to download - Belong's mighty 'The Door Opens the Other Way'. Turn it up: it will fill the room.
Download: Belong - The Door Opens the Other Way
I've not had a chance to listen to this as yet but it sounds intriguing - a whole bunch of odd noises from right across the mighty Australia available bi-monthly as a free download. You can get the first download here - The New Weird Australia Vol. 1.
Lots of psych goodness for a Tuesday afternoon.
The Wooden Shjips guys have put together a mix for Yeti magazine revealing their influences. You can see the tracklisting for it on their MySpace blog (featuring Suicide, Loop and The Grateful Dead, unsurprisingly), and download the whole thing just about here.
Ripley Johnson, the band's chief fuzzlord and vocalist has also been busy with his side-project, Moon Duo. The sound is pretty similar to Wooden Shjips, but the groove is drumless and based solely around Johnson's guitar and a buried organ (at least the song below is) and if anything has a more 'up' vibe about it. It's as if he's wrapped the dense motorik of Dos in a sun blanket. Amen. You can get a track from the new 12" 'Love on The Sea' here.
Sun Araw are another band dealing in a kind of ambient motorik, an immersive bliss of treated guitars and vocals in a heathaze of organs. It could even be a kind of whale-song funk with everything slowed to 16rpm; at times it seems to scrape the same depths as There's A Riot Going On. Strange times. You can get a track from the band's label No Not Fun here.
Then there's this monstrous thing - Sleepy Sun performing 'Sleepy Son' live in San Francisco.