Artist: Nick Jonah Davis
Album: Of Time and Tides
Label: Tompkins Square
Of all post-war musicians, it could be said that John Fahey casts the longest shadow. His presence is monolithic and pretty much any musician wielding a guitar is de facto influenced by Fahey, and even those innovating away and beyond his reach are often classed as post-Takoma – Fahey-influenced by association. The oddest thing about this all-pervading sense of influence is that rarely, if ever, does a musician emulate Fahey, or even try to. Fahey occupied some other space, and his frazzled, wound style doesn’t bear copying or repeating. Yet the comparisons persist, and his presence is there behind everything, shamanic, like some pan-ancestral ur-musician.
Nick Jonah Davis, a Nottingham based musician, is the latest in a long line of solo guitarists who have been compared to Fahey (and who it has to be said, have cited Fahey as an influence), but the comparison is largely needless, or at least has been filtered through a very European/Celtic sensibility to the point of remaining but a distant echo. Though Of Time and Tides does move through differing moods (including a bright waltz in the closing ‘Fred and Evelyn’) the largest influence here is the damp autumnal melancholy of Bert Jansch – who is increasingly becoming some kind of ur-figure himself. Two pieces, ‘Cold Wind on the Long Mynd’ and ‘Nine Stones Close’, could take Jansch’s lugubrious whisper with ease, and the guitar playing has much of the same poise and fluidity. Of Time and Tides also has a great sense of age about it: at times it’s tempting to think of it as having a Gothic lineage, but something like a British Primitivism might be more accurate. In the main, this is music that sounds of age, weathered and elemental.
Read the rest of the review over at The Liminal.
06. Nine Stones Close by Nick Jonah Davis
Mountain*7 - for the person with nothing better to do
The very excellent Room40 label turns 10 years old tomorrow, and they're celebrating with a free 40 track download album, featuring Chris Abrahams, Koen Holtkamp, Greg Davis, John Chantler, Grouper and more. Go get.
A frankly dazzling line up on this 64 track digital compilation - all proceeds from which go to helping recovery in Japan. The compilation (put together by David Daniell, James Elliott and Greg Davis) features, amongst others, Scott Tuma, Grouper, Mountains, Ben Frost, Evan Caminiti, Fennesz, Rhys Chatham, Oren Ambarchi and more. It's a tenner. Go get.
That they lasted only till the next high tide
bothered me, not him whose labour was to make
sugar lattices demolished when the bride,
with help from her groom's hot hand, first cut the cake.
His icing hand, gritty with sandy grains, guides
my pen when I try shaping memories of him
and his eyes scan with mine the rising tides
neither father nor his son could hope to swim.
His eyes stayed dry while I, the kid, would weep
to watch the castle that had taken us all day
to build and deck decay, one wave-surge sweep
our winkle-stuccoed edifice away.
Remembrance like ice cake crumbs in the throat,
remembrance like wind-blown Blackpool brine
overfills the poem's shallow moat
and first, ebbing, salts, then, flowing, flood this line.
Some jumbled thoughts on this:
- There is rough beauty in Harrison's memories of his father, a wedding-cake decorator, and the childish conflation of this in the poet's mind of making sand castles on Blackpool beach, and the way the memories conjure the father, so his hand guides the poet's pen. In the jumbled bewilderment of grief, sand becomes cake crumbs, winkle-stuccoed (what a compound phrase that is - the twin k and cc sounds foreshadowing the grief-catch of the cake crumbs in the throat) becomes sugar lattices.
- The rhyming scheme is more apparent when seen written down, than when read out - to me the greater rhymes are those in the centre of the lines: the 'dry' and the 'I' in line 9, or the 'hand' and sandy' in line 5. In fact the vowel rhymes are like signposts, or lollipop battlements in the sand.
- And those last two lines: the intrusion of the poetic structure and creation (hinted at in the guided pen) seem somehow clumsy to me, but, then again, the last line with its sobbed single syllables is a brilliant melding of the rise of the tide and the onrush of grief.
- 'The main thing is to remember and make poems in the face of the rising tides and not fret that they will be engulfed or swept away' Tony Harrison.
Artist: Julianna Barwick
Album: The Magic Place
Label: Asthmatic Kitty
Space as musical as all the sound – Elizabeth Bishop
There has been an interesting dialogue going on between a certain bleeding edge of the hypnagogic underground and New Age music. The term comes with some seriously heavy baggage, but The Skaters (James Ferraro on his solo records perhaps even more so), Dolphins Into The Future, and Daniel Lopatin have all flirted with some New Age tropes, and incorporated elements of the washed synth tones and that strange hovering politeness into their overall sound. All of which makes perfect sense given the ages of the people involved and the aesthetic of hypnagogia, particularly the way it reflects a kind of (contrived or otherwise) musical unconscious – an unconscious bubbling with the latter stages of the kosmische sound and those odd anodyne and DJ-less FM stations that broadcasted throughout the ’80s. But whether this means there’s been anything approaching a re-appraisal of New Age music, and whether New Age has new currency and isn’t instantly a pejorative term is another matter.
Read the rest of the review over at The Liminal
Listen/Download: Julianna Barwick - The Magic Place (track)
Selborne from the hanger
The language of birds is very ancient and, like other ancient modes of speech, very elliptical: little is said, but much is meant and understood - Gilbert White
On the face of it, sequestered as he was in the tiny, obscure Hampshire parish of Selborne, Gilbert White's investigations and journal writings seem such gentle, minor achievements. But hidden away, surviving on a modest income from various curatorial roles - in Selborne itself and beyond - White perfected a simple technique of simply watching and recording the natural world around him. Watching narrowly, and with such vivid sustained force that he was able to make some of the finest observations of bird and animal life in the history of naturalism. And all this before naturalism as a field of study really existed at all.
In the middle of the 18th Century, Selborne was virtually isolated. There were roads, of sorts, but these were often impassable, and had become what were really deeply sunken lanes - holloways. For whole tracts of the year, these were flooded or under snow, and as there was no passing traffic, the tiny parish was left to its own devices. If you visit now, you can still get a sense of how the parish was guarded by the landscape: rolling chalklands threaded with narrow lanes and hedgeways, and rutted with stream beds, the horizon, such as it is, dominated by the steepling hanger, a beech covered hill which rises sharply above the village. Mabey draws attention to the fact that it must have been this fractured, enclosed nature of the landscape which influenced White into watching what was before his eyes so closely - the dramas of the local, the close quarters. You can sense how the parish became almost an extension of his own interior landscape, a kind of extended study of the geography of the body.
Not to say that White comes across in any way insular or self-obsessed - his work isn't that of anguished tubercular waif. Instead, the journals, which grew out of a simple gardener's calendar, are quietly level-headed and pragmatic. They may have been a distraction from the larger drama of the self, but this isn't obvious. Instead there is a gradual coming-to-consciousness of the idea of man's position in nature as nature, as part of the broader cycle of time and shift. He was among the first to posit the idea of bird's migrating (after many years of fruitlessly searching around his property and around the village for hibernating swallows), and to hint at the massive time scales and movement of geological epochs. Ideas so fundamental and obvious now as to seem basic truths. But it wasn't ever thus, and White was a fundamental in the instigation of these quiet and awesome revelations.
The White that comes out of Mabey's biography is a slight figure - partly because of the scant information available, and partly because in devoting so much of his life to quiescent observation and largely objective record keeping, the hand of his life remained largely unplayed. He has often been portrayed in the past as some sort of paragon of virtue, as if his life were lived out in some kind of saintly idyll. Mabey tempers this with what could be described as a kind of melancholy or loneliness - Mabey hints at the possibility of a depressive disposition inherited from his father - but in the end, White's writings are so vivid with life and detail that you leave wanting to go out into the world and simply look around you. Quite a triumph, even more so now, to go beyond the vague ability to stand and stare, and to understand the simple, and monumental truth of the complexity of nature and our place within it.