All The Merry Year Round

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The appearance of the word “merry” in the title of this, the last in a series of themed compilations by A Year In The Country, rang alarm bells now that the end of the year is approaching. Christmas wretchedness isn’t the theme of the collection, however, “merry” in this case owes more to its prevalence in British folk culture:

All The Merry Year Round is an exploration of an alternative or otherly calendar that considers how traditional folklore and its tales now sit alongside and sometimes intertwine with cultural or media based folklore; stories we discover, treasure, are informed and inspired by but which are found, transmitted and passed down via television, film and technology rather than through local history and the ritual celebrations of the more long-standing folkloric calendar.

Track list:
1) United Bible Studies — Towards The Black Sun
2) Circle/Temple — Rigel Over Flag Fen
3) Magpahi — She Became Ashes and Left With the Wind
4) Cosmic Neighbourhood — Winter Light
5) Field Lines Cartographer — Azimuth Alignment Ritual
6) Polypores — Meridian
7) A Year In The Country — Tradition and Modernity
8) Sproatly Smith — Moons (Part 1)
9) Pulselovers — Tales Of Jack
10) The Hare And The Moon & Jo Lepine — I’ll Bid My Heart Be Still
11) Time Attendant — In a Strange Stillness
12) The Séance — Chetwynd Haze

Some of the previous entries in the year-long series have been more concerned with interstellar space than traditions and customs so All The Merry Year Round may be regarded as a return home, even if the opening number by United Bible Studies is entitled Towards The Black Sun. As with some of the label’s earlier compilations, extended drones and atmospherics by regular contributors Polypores and Time Attendant alternate with contemporary takes on the folk idiom by Magpahi, Sproatly Smith, and The Hare And The Moon, the latter offering an excellent rendition by Jo Lepine of the Scottish ballad I’ll Bid My Heart Be Still. This is another potent collection which doesn’t ignore the sinister potential of winter time, a quality I appreciate when recent offerings from the Ghost Box label have tended to be more box than ghost. The final piece on All The Merry Year Round is Chetwynd Haze by The Séance, a title that refers to ghost-story writer Ronald Chetwynd-Hayes, and a recording that provides an eerie and startling close to a collection mercifully free of seasonal cheer.

All The Merry Year Round will be released at the end of the month but is available for pre-order now.

Previously on { feuilleton }
The Quietened Cosmologists
Undercurrents
From The Furthest Signals
The Restless Field
The Marks Upon The Land
The Forest / The Wald
The Quietened Bunker
Fractures

The Quietened Cosmologists

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It was a coincidence, but the destruction last week of the Cassini probe in the atmosphere of Saturn parallels the theme of the latest music collection from A Year In The Country:

The Quietened Cosmologists is a reflection on space exploration projects that have been abandoned and/or that were never realised, of connected lost or imagined futures and dreams, the intrigue and sometimes melancholia of related derelict sites and technological remnants that lie scattered and forgotten.

It takes as its initial starting points the shape of the future’s past via the discarded British space program of the 1950s to 1970s; the sometimes statuesque and startling derelict artefacts and infrastructure from the Soviet Union’s once far reaching space projects; the way in which manned spaceflight beyond Earth’s orbit/to the moon and the associated sense of a coming space age came to be largely put to one side after the 1969 to 1972 US Apollo flights.

Track list:
1) Field Lines Cartographer — OPS-4
2) Pulselovers — Lonely Puck
3) Magpahi — Chayka
4) Howlround — Night Call, Collect
5) Vic Mars — X-3
6) Unit One — Voyages Of The Moon
7) A Year In The Country — The March Of Progress/Frontier Dreams
8) Keith Seatman — 093A-Prospero
9) Grey Frequency — Phantom Cosmonauts
10) Time Attendant — Adrift
11) Listening Center — Mlécný Perihelion Weekend
12) Polypores — The Amateur Astronomer
13) David Colohan — Landfall At William Creek

The Cassini expedition wasn’t a failed one, of course, but the destruction of the probe (planned from the outset to avoid space-junk wandering the Solar System) is a reminder of the realities of the Space Age, that this is a frontier with the same casualties and ruins as any other. The ruins of Britain’s own contribution to the Space Race—especially those like the abandoned launch-pad at High Down on the Isle of Wight—are all the more poignant for the gulf between their past ambition and present state of decay.

As you might expect, the entries on this collection tend towards the electronic, and there’s even an uptempo synth piece from Keith Seatman whose title—093A-Prospero—is a nod to one of the old British rockets. By way of contrast, David Colohan’s Landfall At William Creek sounds more pastoral unless you know that his title refers to the region of Australia where Britain’s rockets and nuclear missiles were tested during the 1950s and 1960s.

The Quietened Cosmologists will be released on 3rd October, and is available for pre-order now.

Previously on { feuilleton }
Undercurrents
From The Furthest Signals
The Restless Field
The Marks Upon The Land
The Forest / The Wald
The Quietened Bunker
Fractures

From The Furthest Signals

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It’s been a busy year so far for A Year In The Country with two themed compilation albums being followed this month by a third, From The Furthest Signals. The latest theme is an intriguing one, taking as its starting point the erasing of broadcast tapes by British TV companies in the 1960s and early 1970s which destroyed hundreds of hours of dramas, concerts and other programmes. This was done as a money-saving measure (tape being expensive and reusable) at a time when the output of the BBC and the independent stations was regarded as mostly ephemeral and of little value. There was also a patronising class aspect to the practice: John Peel used to bitterly remind people that the BBC had saved its tapes of gardening shows while wiping concerts by the likes of Captain Beefheart.

Track list:
1) Circle/Temple – The Séance/Search for Muspel-Light
2) David Colohan – Brass Rubbings Club (Opening Titles)
3) A Year In The Country – A Multitude Of Tumblings
4) Sharron Kraus – Asterope
5) Time Attendant – The Dreaming Green
6) Depatterning – Aurora In Andromeda
7) Sproatly Smith – The Thistle Doll
8) Field Lines Cartographer – The Radio Window
9) Grey Frequency – Ident (IV)
10) Keith Seatman – Curious Noises & Distant Voices
11) Polypores – Signals Caught Off The Coast
12) The Hare And The Moon – Man Of Double Deed
13) Pulselovers – Endless Repeats/Eternal Return
14) Listening Center – Only The Credits Remain

All those wiped broadcasts may be lost down on Earth but they still exist somewhere in the halo of television and radio signals which is expanding into space. From The Furthest Signals is a speculation about the content of these remote signals, a tuning in to decayed transmissions and imagined broadcasts (that word—”broadcast”—being examined here in its widest possible sense). Some of the entries nod to fictional analogues: The Séance/Search For The Muspel Light by Circle/Temple is a reference to A Voyage to Arcturus, David Lindsay’s unique and remarkable science-fiction novel. Other entries like Brass Rubbings Club (Opening Titles) by David Colohan are suggestions for imaginary theme tunes. This is an excellent collection, one of the best to date from A Year In The Country with pieces ranging from the folk-oriented balladry of Sproatly Smith to the deteriorating electronics of Grey Frequency. The album ends with a number by Listening Center, Only The Credits Remain, whose weightless harmonies wouldn’t be out of place on Apollo by Brian Eno & Daniel Lanois.

From The Furthest Signals is out now in the familiar range of hand-crafted monochrome formats.

Previously on { feuilleton }
The Restless Field
The Marks Upon The Land
The Forest / The Wald
The Quietened Bunker
Fractures

The Restless Field

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The advent of Spring brings a new CD release from A Year In The Country. The Restless Field is another themed compilation, and one of their best to date, the theme this time being the British landscape as a site for political resistance:

The Restless Field is a study of the land as a place of conflict and protest as well as beauty and escape; an exploration and acknowledgment of the history and possibility of protest, resistance and struggle in the landscape/rural areas, in contrast with sometimes more often referred to urban events. It takes inspiration from flashpoints in history while also interweaving personal and societal myth, memory, the lost and hidden tales of the land.

References and starting points include: The British Miners Strike of 1984 and the Battle Of Orgreave. Gerrard Winstanley & the Diggers/True Levellers in the 17th century. The first battle of the English Civil War in 1642. The burying of The Rotherwas Ribbon. The Mass Trespass of Kinder Scout in 1932. Graveney Marsh/the last battle fought on English soil. The Congested Districts Board/the 19th century land war in Ireland. The Battle Of The Beanfield in 1985.

Track list:
1) Ghosts Of Blood & Iron — Field Lines Cartographer
2) Mortimer’s Cross — Vic Mars
3) [ fears ] avaunt! upon “the” hill — Bare Bones
4) 3am M5 Field Raid — Assembled Minds
5) Agrarian Lament — Grey Frequency
6) Beneath The Cherry Trees — Endurance
7) Congested District — Listening Center
8) Badby 80 — Pulselovers
9) Ribbons — Sproatly Smith
10) Graveney Marsh — Polypores
11) Last Best West (circ. 1896) — Depatterning
12) Black Slab — Time Attendant
13) A Mutable History Under A Bright June Sky — A Year In The Country
14) Beyond Jack’s Gate — David Colohan

All of the compositions this time are instrumentals so the degree to which the music relates to the theme depends upon the interpretation of the listener; some pieces, such as 3am M5 Field Raid, offer an overt clue in the title. The success of the collection as a whole is also open to question; it may be that the artists are becoming more confident—many of the people here have appeared on previous AYITC releases—or that the theme this time was more stimulating than others have been.

For the past week or so I’ve been listening to Coil almost exclusively so I hear a lot of Coil echoes in these pieces. I doubt that these are intentional—although given shared concerns, some of them may be—but by 2000 Coil’s music had moved away from the urban orientation of the 1980s to a pastoral mysticism that also had a political impetus: “The forest is a college / Each tree a university”. Late Coil also involved the construction of fields of sound, the products of fields of another kind: electrical and (possibly) psychical. I can’t speak for the latter quality but there’s plenty of the former in this collection of restless fields.

The album will be released on 2nd May, and is available for pre-order now.

Previously on { feuilleton }
The Marks Upon The Land
The Forest / The Wald
The Quietened Bunker
Fractures

The Forest / The Wald

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November brings another compilation from the masters of monochromatic packaging, A Year In The Country. The Forest / The Wald takes woods and their folklore as its theme, so the autumn months would seem an ideal time for such a release. Trees make their presence most apparent during the leaf-shedding months of October and November, and one of the pieces on this new collection, The Hand of Auctumnus by Richard Moult, refers directly to the season.

The album takes as one of its initial reference points Electric Eden author Rob Young’s observations of the roots of the word folk as being “…the music of the ‘Volk’, a word born of the Teutonic Wald, the wild wood where society was organised ad hoc, bottom-up and frequently savage…”; places where rituals endured and perplexed their heirs.

In amongst The Forest / The Wald can be found expressions of greenwood rituals performed in the modern-day, echoes of fantastical childhood rhymes, sylvan siren calls that tremble through tangles of branches, electronics pressed into the summoning of otherworldly arboreal creations unearthed amidst the creeping thickets and elegies to woodland intrusions, solitudes and seasons.

Track list:
1) The Abney Ritual – Bare Bones
2) Hawthorn Heart – Magpahi
3) Deep Undergrowth – Polypores
4) Fantastic Mass – Time Attendant
5) Waldeinsamkeit – David Colohan
6) The Hand Of Auctumnus – Richard Moult
7) Tomo’s Tale – Sproatly Smith
8) A Whisper In The Woods – The Hare And The Moon ft Alaska
9) Ocarina Procession – The Rowan Amber Mill
10) Trees Grew All Around Her – The Séance with Lutine
11) Equinox – Cosmic Neighbourhood
12) Where Once We Wandered Free – A Year In The Country

Not everything here is folk-oriented, some of the contributions, such as those by Polypores and Time Attendant, are electronic pieces. David Colohan, Sproatly Smith, The Rowan Amber Mill, Richard Moult and others follow more familiar paths through the trees. Compared to Fractures and The Quietened Bunker, two of the earlier releases in this series, The Forest / The Wald is much closer to the territory mapped out by Xenis Emputae Travelling Band (or their present incarnation, Hawthonn), a response to British folk traditions that acknowledges the history without seeming beholden to it.

The Forest / The Wald will be released on 14th November.

Previously on { feuilleton }
The Quietened Bunker
Fractures