reviewed by Ben Hogwood
What’s the story?
The roots for Grasscut’s new mini album lie in the footnotes of a previous long player. The 2015 opus Everyone Was A Bird, which explored meaningful places for the duo of Andrew Phillips and Marcus O’Dair, invited listeners to submit thoughts on their own significant places in the form of voicemail messages.
Phillips’ brief was initially to select one of these messages and turn it in to a fully-fledged composition, but it soon became apparent that the abundance and quality of material was way more than one recordings’ worth. The project sat on the back burner for a while but is fully realised as an extended EP. In the end six messages were chosen, with a web of music spun around each, painting pictures of locations from Brighton up to the Outer Hebrides.
What’s the music like?
Captivating – as are the descriptive messages themselves. Each of the six portraits is like an individual postcard, carefully stitched together, and the meaningful aspects of each location are clear in the emotion of the subjects. The places themselves are hugely varied – from Inchkeith Island, on the edge of Skye with a near-constant wind – to The Garden, a more private and domestic utterance.
The music in the latter is utterly charming, telling a story well before we hear the voicemail message, the song of a blackbird accompanied by the plaintive open strings of a violin, Inchkeith Island is on a larger scale, the water around ever-present, while Human Estuary uses a lovely chamber music group with violin, clarinet and double bass. The Pull is punctuated by an enchanted figure on the piano, its sound cushioned and mottled. Witley Common is similarly mysterious, while The Garden tells a vivid story even before the message, the open strings of a violin used as a countermelody to a blackbird breaking into song. Seacliff makes good use of a Kathleen Ferrier sample, as Phillips says, ‘singing like a mermaid in the distance’.
Does it all work?
Yes. The Overwinter album earlier this year was a timely reminder of Phillips and O’Dair’s ability to make music that transports their listener to another place, but with the voicemail messages setting the tone here, the accompanying pictures are ever more vivid. The only regret is that some of the compositions are not longer – Seacliff and The Pull especially have enough material to blossom into recordings double the length that they occupy.
Is it recommended?
Yes. Grasscut devotees will not need to hesitate as this mini-album continues their development as composers of meaningful music of time and place. Newcomers would also be advised to start here – but to carry on with the other albums, as this is a band hitting the sweet spot with an unerring accuracy.
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