Wild Mercury Sound

Thistletown and Gavin Bryars

John Mulvey

A couple of things that have been hanging around for a few weeks now, and deserve some love here. One is “Rosemarie”, the debut album by an authentically fragrant Cornish band of Pre-Raphaelite damsels and dazed troubadours called Thistletown. Give me any excuse, and I’ll go into a comically apoplectic rant about the uselessness of most contemporary British bands who style themselves as acid-folk.

As usual, I suppose, it’s my inbuilt bias to American music – even when it’s interpreting British forms. But Thistletown are pretty good, even though the album has been produced - quite beautifully, I have to say - by Michael Tyack, leader of quite possibly the very worst comedy fol-de-rol merchants, Circulus (who always remind me, grimly, of The Amazing Blondel).

Reading their biog, it’s easy to imagine Thistletown are as self-conscious an operation as Circulus, given that it involves winsome maidens, houseboats, homegrown vegetables, wandering drummers and so on. In truth though, their music is so willowy and harmonious, it serves to make all the rustic utopianism of the backstory sound highly appealing.

If you’re looking for an old English comparison, Trees are probably the best. But it’s Philadelphia’s Espers who Thistletown most resemble, though with less of a witchy edge. The title track is especially lovely, pitched somewhere between motorik and jig, though I must say it’s pretty hard to write about accurately while AC/DC are playing on the stereo. Strange day here today, since our production editor received “Tracks’n’Grooves” by Cliff Richard in the post and tried to convince us (and himself, briefly) that it was Cliff’s “breaks” album.

But I digress. The other thing I wanted to mention today was a new recording of Gavin Bryars’ “The Sinking Of The Titanic”. Bryars is a favourite composer of mine, ever since I came across the Tom Waits-augmented version of “Jesus’ Blood Never Failed Me Yet” (ostensibly a tramp singing on a loop for an hour, augmented by Bryars’ gentle backgrounds and, in this case, a suitably ragged harmony from Waits).

I saw a performance of “Titanic” years ago; wherein Bryars’ ebbing, super-slow orchestral minimalism was accompanied by a neon tube turning, over the course of an hour, from horizontal to vertical. This treatment is more layered and detailed than the one I have. It’s by Bryars (on double bass), an Italian ensemble called Alter Ego, and the sound artist Philip Jeck on turntables.

Jeck is pretty interesting in a Christian Marclay kind of way, and it’s he who initially seems to dominate, prefacing the piece with a lot of staticky atmospherics. It creates a dusty rather than strictly damp atmosphere, but the ghostly ambience is striking, and when Alter Ego’s strings gradually come into focus, the effect is of something sombre and massive – a doomed ship, let’s say – emerging from the mist. Perfect.


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