A while ago four new releases from Rif Mountain arrived through my letterbox, which was a not-half-bad start to the day.
Since 2010 the label has released nearly 50 records and been a home to the likes of The Owl Service, Jason Steel, Nancy Wallace, Alasdair Roberts, Robert Sunday, Michael Tanner and Nicholas Palmer’s The A-Lords and sometimes A Year In The Country fellow travellers The Straw Bear Band and Bare Bones amongst others, with releases often having a fluid and interlinked movement of collaborators, writers and performers.
For a few years after 2013 things were quieter around Rif Mountain but since 2016 there have been a number of new releases.
The four new releases from 2017, which are all listed as being part of Phase III, are Robert Sunday’s Cold Little Roses, Hold Music’s Hold Music (featuring amongst others Jason Steel and Daniel Gardner), Phases I-IX and Reliquary (Parts I-VII) by Bare Bones (featuring at their core Dom Cooper and Jason Steel).
One thing that struck me when listening to these releases was that though (I think) they were all recorded in the UK there is a certain dusty or almost mythic Americana aspect to the recordings at times, particularly so on say Robert Sunday’s Hushed and Hold Music’s Howl & Whoop.
Along which lines, on the Rif Mountain site the following is said about Cold Little Roses:
“…set to melodies that would make a hungover Kris Kristofferson blush (in his prime!)…”
While the site says this of Bare Bones’ Phase I-IX:
“Moon Phases by Bare Bones is an album of nine vignettes. These correspond with the nine phases of the moon.
The duo has moved beyond the ritualistic drones of earlier work, creating nuanced, textured soundscapes. These twilight recordings are informed by improvisatory techniques, ethnographic field recordings, and the sonic spaces of Dub; a narcoleptic Ennio Morricone soundtrack.
The tracks inhabit a moonlit world, reminiscent of the hazy pacing of Peter Fonda’s film ‘The Hired Hand’ or the fragmentary/searching writing of Fernando Pessoa’s ‘The Book of Disquiet’.”
On these two new Bare Bones’ releases that dusty, mythical Americana (or “narcoleptic Ennio Morricone” to quote the above text) sits alongside an exploratory or even possibly experimental take on elements of traditional British folk music – a lineage it draws from without replicating.
Rather it has it’s own unique character and an atmosphere that seems to suggest some kind of unknowable mystery… while at times there is a gentle, heartbreaking subtle and evocative melancholia to the recordings.
(As an aside “dusty, mythical Americana” and the undercurrents of British folk and rural/edgeland orientated culture could be considered counterparts of one another – the likes of for example the film Searching for the Wrong Eyed Jesus (2003) and the gothic gospel preacher-isms of the band Sixteen Horsepower explore the flipside, undercurrents, myths and sometimes the beliefs/faiths of rural America and the American South in a similar way that British work which has been called amongst other things wyrd or weird Albion-esque explores and expresses not dissimilar themes and atmospheres in relation to the UK.)
The tracks on these two Bare Bones releases are largely instrumental, although here and there voices and incantations appear: (what I assume are) organs create drone like textures and soundscapes, on one track there is a field recording of falling rain and Phases I-IX ends with the sound of something mechanical winding down – possibly the tape machine on which the album was recorded, possibly one of those just mentioned organs.
As with previous releases, the packaging and accompanying design is rather fine – put together by (I assume) Dom Cooper of Bare Bones/The Straw Bear Band, who has also created the design for a number of earlier Rif Mountain releases. Opening them is something of a treat: a sort of “I wander what I’ll find in here” moment or two, with them containing the likes of illustrations, quotes, collages of music equipment and at one point intriguing and quietly unsettling verse – which could well be a “from this side of the seas” counterpart to that previously mentioned “dusty, mythical Americana” and “gothic gospel preacher-isms”.
Elsewhere at A Year In The Country:
Day #30/365: The Owl Service – A View From A Hill
Day #51/365: General Orders No. 9… wandering from the arborea of Albion to…
Day #170/365: Who’s afear’d: Dom Cooper & reinterpreting signs, signals and traditions…
Day #198/365: Wandering from the arborea of Albion (#2) and fever dreams of the land…
Wanderings #5/52a: A Return Visit To And From Rif Mountain