Words by Grey Malkin
Alula Down, Hereford’s Mark Waters and Kate Gathercole, have been at the forefront (alongside compatriots Sproatly Smith) of their locale’s ‘weirdshire’ scene and accompanying series of mini festivals that have showcased the likes of Trappist Afterland, David Colohan and In Gowan Ring. Over the last five years they have been issuing stunning missives from the edges of psychedelia and folk, including 2018’s gorgeous mix of traditional ballads and original wyrd tales ‘Homepsun’, as well as their recent heartbreakingly beautiful one sided lathe single ‘Wrap Your Hills Around Our Absence’. With new release, ‘Postcards from Godley Moor, Summer 2020’, Alula commence an ambitious and intriguing project of releasing an album each season for the coming year. Described as ‘a collage of local field recordings, traditional and new original songs, and semi-improvised instrumentals’, ‘Postcards…’ is a bold and rewarding piece of work in and of itself, revealing hidden details and subtle emotional power with each new listen.
Opening with the sound of soft summer winds through the fields, ‘Searching For Lambs’ is a ghost of a ballad; spare, picked guitar frames Gathercole’s haunting and intimate voice to conjure a wistful and nostalgic slice of melancholic acid folk. The field recordings add to the spooked nature of the narrative, one could imagine hearing this song drifting over the hills, an echo from another time. ‘Interruption’ is equally spectral; a hushed, choral note underpins pensive piano and guitar, distant cries and birdsong weaving in and out of focus. At once both hugely immersive and evocative, this piece amply illustrates Alula’s ability to create a musical landscape that drips with otherworldly atmosphere and genuine feeling, one that envelopes the listener and fully transports them elsewhere. This would make an ideal and suitable soundtrack to some of the BFI films of old, found footage of rural life (such as ‘Here’s A Health To The Barley Mow’), there is the same sense of a sepia tinted past but also of a living tradition, that Hereford still has magic in its meadows and streams.
‘Section XVII Weather Proverbs’ arises from the patter of rainfall, harmonium and shimmering guitar gentle yet strident, as Gathercole holds her own in a truly spellbinding and unusual modern hymnal. Reminiscent of shades of Nico melding with Pentangle, you really need to hear this. ‘Bring me Demons’ is an echoed and delicate tapestry of folk, experimentalism and cosmic winds, a quiet epic that layers and develops into an arresting and hypnotic centrepiece for the album. ‘Poor Cow’, more traditionally song structured, provides an effective counterbalance and is truly lovely in its skeletal grace and simplicity. Closer ‘No Peace’ again draws us in into the sound of the land itself, wind and birdsong giving way to organ drones and acoustic guitar notes as distant thunder breaks overhead; a postcard snapshot of summer’s days past.
Whilst ‘Postcards…’ is a triumph of its own, it is exciting to anticipate the further releases in this series and how they too will document moments in time and the passing of the seasons. Alula Down make folk music that is unlike any other you will have heard, but is equally authentic and essential. Spend a while with these postcard songs and transport yourself temporarily; you may not wish to return.
Available as a download at http://www.aluladown.bandcamp.com, originally with a series of physical postcards that are now replicated digitally. All proceeds go to supporting Global Greengrants who help those affected by environmental harm and social injustice.
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