Words by Grey Malkin
Adam Geoffrey Cole is probably best known for the albums he released with various choice contributors under the banner of Trappist Afterland, who have become a byword for some of the most genuinely exciting, ambitious and innovative psych folk over the last decade. Whether considering 2016’s ornate and detailed ‘God’s Good Earth’, or last year’s epically scaled but deeply personal ‘Seaside Ghost Tales’, Trappist offered a highly individual approach that encompassed gnostic beliefs, personal philosophy and a tangible love and reverence for underground 60’s and 70’s acid folk. Utilising a selection of exotic and unusual instrumentation, comparisons with The Incredible String Band were certainly close to the mark in reflecting the sheer quality of Trappist’s output, and a useful signifier for fans of similar musical terrain; however, they do not adequately describe the unerring uniqueness of Trappist’s work or of Cole’s distinct vision.
Now, a disclaimer. I have worked with Adam on a number of releases and am in the process of doing so again, but, before I was a collaborator, I was (and remain) a fan. Trappist first came to my attention whilst reviewing at the (sadly now dormant) psych music website The Active Listener, and the result was instantaneous, they became my band. Like many others who were similarly entranced, I had to have a copy of every Trappist or associated recording, and this very much continues, which brings us neatly to ‘Fallowing’, out now via Sunstone Records. This album represents the first full length from Cole recorded under his own name, rather than under the Trappist moniker, it having been symbolically laid to rest in order to consciously strip back arrangements to present a truly authentic self. With both ‘Fallowing’, and the recent ‘Seasick’ 7” release on the Sonido Polifonico label, a new epoch or era is heralded for Cole’s music; on the basis of these releases, it is one that is pregnant with possibility and promise.
‘Fallowing’ begins with ‘Pools of Christ’, its brooding and cascading string work creating a hypnotic and gently powerful tapestry for Cole’s plaintive vocals, with lyrics heavy in symbolism and delivered with utter conviction. Indeed, the song references Adam’s mother, and is a truly moving and affecting work that subtly works its way under the skin with ease. The sound here is mostly shorn of the sometime elaborate and esoteric instruments that Trappist favoured in the past, and subsequently is all the more nakedly powerful and direct for its bare honesty. ‘Life Is A Fable’ is a case in point, its swirling and criss-crossing acoustic harmonies combining to deliver an uplifting sense of assurance, Cole’s voice providing a comforting and intimate companion. At times, as with the album as a whole, a succession of the ghosts of folk musicians past are invited or invoked, with distinct echoes of both Robin Williamson and Anne Briggs particularly lingering, but it is Cole that holds the floor at all times, this is his vision, his show, his art.
Next, ‘Bell Tongues’ pensive opening is composed of and decorated by some impressively intricate guitar playing, amidst a virtual waterfall of glistening chimes. Cole’s guitar work (and his abilities on any number of the other instruments that he turns his hand to) is sometimes undersung, perhaps due to the service his playing devotes to the song as a whole, rather than indulging in excessive soloing or showboating. Nonetheless, it is his guitar that provides not only the skeleton but also the flesh of many of the songs here; it underpins, adorns and beautifies. Similarly, Cole’s vocals also demand recognition, he is amongst the most unique and evocative of singers currently at work today, his voice both impassioned and emotive; there is never a doubt that what he is describing holds deep and potent meaning. A subtle but gorgeous layer of violin from long-term collaborator Anthony Cornish adds further emotional resonance, and there is a real sense of the sacred in the piece (an attribute that has long been found in Trappist’s work; this is deeply spiritual music).
‘Womb’, meanwhile, recalls aspects of Current 93’s ‘Of Ruine or Some Blazing Starre’ in its immersive melancholy and dignified march into the overarching darkness and shadows, assuring us that the road is winding, but there is a way through. Cornish’s harmonium brings depth and a warm and sensitive accompaniment to Cole’s pilgrimage. ‘Matins’ is similarly introspective, and is a thing of clear-eyed beauty. Indeed, it is hard to overstate just how lovely this album is, every note is crystalline and precise, every arrangement spare but essential to the emotional weight of the songs herein. The songwriting itself ably channels issues and events that are clearly personal, but in a manner that manages to tap into communal, universal concerns. ‘Fabric of Being’ follows, a song that has had a previous outing under the Trappist banner, emerging from a hazy fug of harmonium drones with a tangible sense of urgency. A song that exemplifies Cole’s skills and particular strengths as a writer, there are myriad quiet dramas played out here, in a track filled with both ghosts and memories. A work in two parts, the tension and edge gradually slows and fades, to morph into a mantric drone of ‘the sea harbours the moon, the hills cradle the sun’, the harmonium becoming ever more insistent as the song builds to its final crescendo. ‘Sunrise’ by turn is a strident and focused piece of mystically tinged acid folk, of poetry set to music, a prayer to nature and to the blackbird and the berries that feature in the song itself. A processionary piece led by a tabla drumbeat, it seems to swirl and shimmer like a haunted, desert mirage.
Next, the solemn ‘Orbs of Christ’ is a visionary chant, a woven and weft piece of wyrd (and wonderful) psych folk that transfixes and bewitches with ease, before ‘Winter Fallows’ enters, with its dark, descending chords and distant, striking bells. Conjuring a creeping and unsettling invocation of the coming cold and dark, it provides the perfect soundtrack to either a figurative or literal winter, whether within or without. Curiously, in amongst the song’s shadows, there is also a melody, or a hook, that embeds itself in the listener’s head long after it has finished playing. This is something of a trademark of sorts for Trappist/Cole; these are intricate and complex pieces and songs, but they are also simple and direct in their tenor, in their emotional impact and in their musicality and memorability. The album concludes with finale ‘The Saddest Man’, constructed from a chorus of massed strings and drones, a psych orchestra that accompanies Cole’s keening and vocalising, the intensity growing into something akin to a religious experience. It is an ending that you find yourself involuntarily holding your breath to.
Previous Trappist albums served as entire musical storybooks to delve into, full of strange, beautiful worlds and sounds. ‘Fallowing’ is no different; it retains this inherent sense of magic and otherworldliness, but its directness also brings to the forefront something very human and real. There is a sense of connection, of reaching out, to communicate, warn and comfort. This is most welcome, especially so in these continuing times of both isolation and separation (Cole is currently experiencing yet another lockdown in his native Australia). There is humanity here, with all its strengths and frailties. ‘Fallowing’ is also a potential career highlight, an incredibly constructed piece of work, breathtaking in both its ambition and stark beauty. An EP is due to follow, and this fan will undoubtedly be seeking out a copy of this too. Absolutely essential.
Fallowing was released on the 21st September and is available on vinyl, CD and download from Sunstone Records and at trappistafterland.bandcamp.com
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