The small island of Eigg, part of the archipelago of the Inner Hebrides, is something of a notorious spot in Scottish musical lore as the venue for the annual Howlin' Fling festival, where locals and incomes alike get utterly blasted among the rocks and heather. Now, the good people of Lost Map have established an artist residency called Visitations in a small bothy on the Island, inviting musicians to come, stay, reflect, and record some music.
The latest to do so are Slow Tree, AKA Abi Fry and Neil Hamilton, whom you might well know of as part of British Sea Power. They live on a croft on the nearby Isle of Skye, and caught a boat over in November last year to record this rather beautiful record. If you're a fan of the more expansive, soundtrack work BSP have produced in recent times then this is a further development on those evocative atmospherics, the boat pushed out towards a mistier horizon.
Although this is 'just' an EP of four tracks and 22 minutes, it's one of those records that's so absorbing it has a strange warping effect on time and place. You can get lost in it, like one of those afternoons when everything's gone wrong and there's nothing to be done but stare at the ceiling, or the rain-streaked window on a long train ride. That's not to say, I hasten to add, that this is a depressing listen. Perhaps it's because they're a couple who live in such an isolated place, but there's a wonderful intimacy throughout Slow Tree. It doesn't sound like a record made in a few days as an experiment during a residency, but an outpouring of something shared.
Opening track 'May All Beings' is very much of its place, full of space and birdsong behind a string refrain, rhythms tamped out, Hamilton and Fry's vocals joined in a murmured mantra "may all the beings in this world be well and be happy". 'Moonlight Lover' is a smokey romantic duet, a song from a musical in a drowned and ghostly world. 'The Wild Night' has a similar noirish feel in its fractured sounds and piano. Hamilton croons about "summertime in the city", a pleasing reversal, in folk terms, of the customary view of the rural from the city-dweller's musical perspective. There's a great swing to it, too - indeed, throughout the record what makes it such an intriguing sonic topography is that many of the rhythms have hip hop as their starting point, but given a New Weird Britain twist, as if you could get baked smoking heather.
Speaking of which, 'Medication' begins like a fairground pipe organ contentedly whistling an abstract tune to itself, before the song itself (clicking like halyards on a mast, strings as gurgling tide) builds to a wonderful, filmic climax. Slow Tree is an utterly beguiling listen that, hopefully, is just the start of what Fry and Hamilton might send forth from the wild island waters that they call home.
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Thu Nov 29 14:49:40 CET 2018