Album review: The Left Outsides – A Place To Hide

Album artwork

Words by Grey Malkin

Rising from the ashes of the much missed Eighteenth Day of May, The Left Outsides have quietly but consistently and effectively built their reputation as one of the UK’s finest and most intriguing folk acts. Consisting of vocalist, viola and harmonium player Alison Cotton (whose solo releases on labels such as Bloxham Tapes and Clay Pipe Records are equally as essential) and husband Mark Nicholas (vocals, keyboards and guitar), albums such as the atmospheric and ornate ‘The Shape Of Things To Come’, and, arguably their magnum opus, the ambitious and magnificent  ‘All That Remains’, have ensured that copies sell out quickly to an eager and devoted fan base. Also known for being a vital performing act, The Left Outsides have this element perfectly captured on ‘A Place To Hide’, recorded during their support set for psych legend Robyn Hitchcock in 2018 and now released on vinyl for the first time.

Opener ‘My Reflection Once Was Me’, a new song not included on previous releases, begins with the haunted, wintry drone of Alison’s harmonium, and develops into a spectral, skeletal ballad that would not be out of place on a Midwinter or Stone Angel album from the 1970s. Mark’s guitar provides a percussive heft as the song increasingly takes on an icy and ancient, hymnal presence. The traditional ‘Young Girl Cut Down In Her Prime’ (familiar perhaps to Shirley Collins aficionados) is equally chilling, Alison’s vocals at first mostly unaccompanied but beautifully framed in swirls of feedback and glistening drones, before both sympathetic, cobwebbed guitar and weeping viola enter as the ballad reaches its tragic conclusion.

The Left Outsides

The title track of ‘All That Remains’ is as equally gorgeous as its studio incarnation, but more insistent, with a darker undertow, whilst ‘Down To The Waterside’ is a yearning and heart-rending murder ballad, swathed in majestic harmonium and pensive, ghostly arpeggios. ‘Naming Shadows Was Your Existence’ blends The Velvets with Mazzy Star; one of the highlights of ‘All That Remains’, this live version adds a pleasing ragged edge, Mark’s processionary and distorted guitar pulsating and keeping time. A cover of the 13th Floor Elevators ‘Splash 1’ closes the album, a warm, string led slice of pristine psychedelia that echoes on long after the needle has lifted from the grooves.

It is testament to the gentle power of The Left Outsides that this live recording fits into their canon as yet another important and crucial release in their catalogue. Their evocative and haunted take on folk and psychedelia at once carries on the tradition of acid folk and traditional artists such as Mr Fox, Trees, Shirley Collins and Shelagh McDonald, but in a manner that is very much their own; unique and recognisable as only being The Left Outsides. This is a very good place to hide indeed.

‘A Place To Hide’ is due for release on the 28th August on Cardinal Fuzz / Feeding Tube Records. You can pre-order a vinyl copy here

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