Words by Grey Malkin
In the deep of the forest, in the shadows and the copses, something is calling. Something distinctly otherworldly, something wyrd, tinged with both magic and melancholy. The Grey Stone in the Wood, which emerged on the splendid Reverb Worship label last summer, is now singing through the fallen leaves and broken branches on Bandcamp and inviting you to venture far from the safety of the path, amongst the rain soaked pines and oaks.
Dark Leaves, or Cornwall’s Patrick Aston, plays music immersed in local folklore and the spirit of both the woodlands and seascape where he resides. These seven songs (and new track The Rooks) follow a dark, psychedelic folk trail previously traversed by the likes of Stone Breath, In Gowan Ring and Angels of Light, and further back, artists such as Forest, Duncan Browne and Mr Fox. Part acid folk, part melancholic troubadour, there is something that has arrived fully formed and essential in the music of Dark Leaves.
Moon on Tide‘s pensive acoustic picking and subtle strings provide a spectral framework for this album opener, a delicate yet formidable lament to impermanence. Aston’s vocals supply an atmospheric baritone that well suits the carefully arranged harmonies and strong sense of yearning. Next, Grey Stone in Wood adds percussion and hand drum to a similarly wounded and cobwebbed piece that expertly combines spare, nuanced keyboards with a descending guitar motif and hushed vocals. The song itself is inspired by the Cornish legend of Lyonesse and St. Michael’s Mount, its place name meaning ‘hoar rock in woodland’.
Next, Pathways strident acoustic drive is twinned with an equally determined bass and backbeat that propels the song into the wilds of woodlands unknown. Fans of such acid folk luminaries as Wyrdstone, Candidate, Sproatly Smith and Alula Down will recognise an affinity here in the mood of rustic eeriness, and will undoubtedly adore this album. In particular, however, the keyboards remind this listener of the decidedly unfolk The Cure, round about their Faith era, with an equal sense of both the haunting and the sacred. Four Winds is by turn more reflective, more inward and serves as an aching lament that is carried on the wind by echoed vocals and weeping synths, recalling not just Nick Drake but also Paul Roland‘s psych folk wizardry. Drums punctuate the rolling mist to draw the song to a winding and masterful close, providing a genuine hairs standing up on the nape of the neck moment.
The Turning suggests a Legendary Pink Dots influence, as the recognisable acoustics are winningly melded to bass, a choral string section and drums; indeed, these songs are a crossroads where psychedelia, folk horror and acid folk both meet and intersect. Amber Lights follows with autumnal grace and ghost filled whispers, Aston’s vocals suggesting and hinting at a greater yet gentle darkness as the song bleeds beautifully around him. Building and layering into a processionary march, the song grows and blooms into what may well be the album’s highlight or stand out.
Finally, closer The Hidden delivers the sound of winter, barren and skeletal, yet with its own frozen beauty, with Aston’s fingerpicking and simple yet evocative string lines casting an icy but evocative shadow. Special mention must be made of recent and standalone track The Rooks, a download single released in August, almost a year after the album itself. A haunted, lonesome guitar and a single, tense drumbeat is gradually joined by Aston’s voice in a mood of apprehension, almost as if awaiting a distant storm to hit land. A progression on from the album in terms of composition yet clearly and welcomingly of the same ilk, The Rooks is captivating and leaves the listener both bewitched and spellbound.
The Grey Stone in the Wood is a dark treasure, something both organic and genuine in its nature and a promising first utterance for Dark Leaves that suggests great potential for the future, as further evidenced by The Rooks. You will not wish to leave this cool, becalmed forest clearing; instead make the twigs your bed, the leaves your pillow and settle for a while amongst these old folk tales and lost laments.
Purchase Grey Stone in the Wood here