Album review: Lost Harbours – Towers of Silence

Source: album artwork

I’m always particularly impressed by albums that seem to exist in a vacuum, that create their own unique and inimitable atmosphere. Even more impressive is when this is achieved with minimal studio trickery but rather through the instrumental talent of it’s creators. This is the case with the new Lost Harbours album, ‘Towers of Silence‘, seemingly a thematic follow on from their similarly darkly ethereal 2012 release ‘Hymns and Ghosts‘, which was rightly proclaimed by The Quietus as “perhaps the best album released in 2012.”

An experimental folk collective based between Riga, Latvia and Southend-on-Sea in the UK, Lost Harbours’ ‘Towers of Silence‘ lineup features Richard Thompson on vocals/guitar, Emma Reed on flute, clarinet and guitar with Diana Collier and Sabine Moore providing extra vocal reinforcements. It should be noted that the current live lineup features Thompson and Moore utilising vocals, violin and electronics. Lost Harbours have had a very busy couple of years, with a burgeoning strong reputation garnered on the live scene- with appearances at the likes of the Leigh Folk Festival and the Kukemuru Ambient Festival and European tours supporting the likes of Mirroring and Jessica Bailiff. Furthermore, in 2013 the band soundtracked the documentary ‘Lead/Light’ and worked in collaboration with Scanner and the writer Justin Hopper to create music for ‘Public Record: Estuary’, a specially commissioned piece for the Shorelines Literary Festival.

As for the new album itself, it’s very much nocturnal music for the nighttime hours, melancholic and delicate. Indeed, in places if you simply close your eyes you could easily mistakenly find yourself thinking you were listening to a Bert Jansch or John Renbourn album, such is the intricacy of the finger picked playing. Thompson’s excellent vocal delivery often recalls the world weary inflections of Jackson C Frank. The original compositions here are absolutely first class- the leading single from the album, ‘Lake’, starts off with a shimmering mirage of guitar which reminds me of the beginning of Eclection’s ‘Violet Dew’. The single is an excellent embodiment of what lies in store for the rest of the album, a darkly cosmic workout which is a strange cocktail of the Yardbirds in full Gregorian chant mode with the experimental folk sensibilities of the Incredible String Band or Dr Strangely Strange. And it absolutely works. Explaining the origins of the track, Thompson says ‘Lake’ is based on the Selkie myths which he read as a child.

Indeed, Thompson cites the Incredible String Band as one of the primary influences on the group’s sound. Also noted as a spiritual successor to Lost Harbours is John Martyn, along with a myriad of drone/noise/sound artists such as Coil, Richard Youngs, Jandek, Espers, Six Organs of Admittance, Wolf Eyes and Brian Eno. These influences make themselves known throughout the album’s experimental flourishes, which elevates the group from acid folk to something far stranger and more rewarding.

This is not to say Lost Harbours don’t pay tribute to traditional folk, hence the presence of two trad staples, ‘Black is the Colour’ and ‘Idumea’, which both bookend the album. (the latter of which is an excellent 12 minute workout featuring some excellent playing from the band and equally excellent contributions from Diana Collier.) Thompson explains that these two songs “haunted me for a few years. Idumea I first heard on the Current 93 release ‘Black Ships Ate The Sky’. It followed me ever since.”

The group’s strong ecological concern coupled with an appreciation for nature- as evidenced in ‘Two Suns’ (inspired by a camping trip in Latvia where Thompson eloquently notes he “saw two days come together as one, occluding the night, leaving the moon a faded forgotten image in the blue sky”) and ‘Elegy And Walking’, with lyrics written by both Thompson and Reed- reveal the album’s strong thematic influence of ‘haunted beauty, echoing terror and the destruction of the natural world’. Speaking further about the inspirations for the aforementioned songs, Thompson muses, “those tracks were inspired by the marching lines of pylons from town to town, by the behaviour of shrikes, the haunting calls of nightjars shrieking like lost souls, of lost ritual practises, the ever present noise of humanity that covers the Essex countryside, the encroaching slurry of concrete rolling over fields and woods.'”

As for the album’s title, Thompson explains ‘A Tower of Silence’ is a place for ritualistic sky burial, a platform upon which the body is laid in order for it to be picked apart by carrion eaters’. This not only encapsulates the dark subtexts of the band’s output but will also hopefully prove prophetic- in placing ‘A Tower of Silence’ upon the altar for us crows to pick over, Lost Harbours will transcend genres with this excellent release. As noted in a review courtesy of the Wire, ‘Lost Harbours nail perfectly the sense of mystery of that imaginary world populated by serene creatures from space.’

Towers of Silence‘ was released on October 6th and is available on cassette and vinyl on the Liminal Noise Tapes label. Immerse yourself in Lost Harbours’ nocturnal dreamscape this autumn. Cosmic lullabies for astral nights.

You can purchase the album here

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