Unpopular Advent 2018 – Day 7

Trappist Afterland – Se(VII)en

Trappist Afterland is not a name I was familiar with before 2018 and in truth would likely have completely passed me by if it were not for one of those serendipitous moments of occasionally converging interests combining in a wrinkle of time. So to Totnes on an Easter holiday evening, to a show promoted by a teenage fanzine writer (the sometimes intriguing Moof that dabbles in all things psych-tinted) in a room populated variously by youthful tripping hip(pie)sters, ageing hippie travellers (in time, in space, even in the physical world) and middle aged indie (no longer)kids (me and my friend Phil). None of these descriptions, incidentally, are meant pejoratively but rather in a warmly self-mocking manner. For if we cannot laugh out ourselves and the statements we make both explicit and implicit, then what on earth can we laugh at? It is only music after all.

On that evening then Trappist Afterland were something of a revelation, bridging the realms of pre-recordings and live performance with a peculiarly organic sense of improvised response within an oddly rigid structure. The same kind of uncertainty exists in the Trappist Afterland recordings for they each appear to adhere to their own sets of rules, each deeply rooted within the tropes of mystical folk music yet somehow sounding intriguingly contemporary. ‘Se(VII)en’ fits neatly into this carefully constructed mystical landscape as another element in song writer and multi-instrumentalist Adam Cole’s increasingly extended universe (being, as far as one can tell, the eighth release since 2012). Cole calls ‘Se(VII)en’ a collection of Gnostic folk songs and in truth they sound almost exactly as one might expect from such a description.

Choosing a single song from ‘Se(VII)en’, or indeed from any Trappist Afterland record then is difficult because there really is only one song. If you read that and see a criticism them in all likelihood you will not appreciate Trappist Afterland and that is fine of course. You may be the kind of person who does not see the beauty in a room of Rothko paintings, seeing only similarity and not difference within a deceptively simple structure. That is also fine.

After much vacillation then I opt to illustrate ‘Se(VII)en’ with penultimate track ‘Forest Mass’. It is a track that continues a thread common to several on the record by being tied to imagery of wood, forest, trees (‘The Blood In The Wood’, ‘Knot In The Wood’, ‘Elm and Bracken’, ‘Trace Your Root’). Todd Hido’s photographs of an impending darkness were referenced a few days ago as part of the rumination on Whyte Horses’ ‘Fake Protest Song’ and they feel appropriate again as a touching and jumping off point for much of ‘Se(VII)en’ and in particular ‘Forest Mass’. There is in both a deep connection to the earth although perhaps coming from almost opposite aesthetic directions. For where Hido’s photographs are almost epic, polished in execution and most definitely Modern, Trappist Afterland and ‘Forest Mass’ instead invoke the Medieval. Both, it must be said, anticipate an approaching Dark Age; Hido by gazing forwards and Trappist Afterland by casting back. If it is a somewhat discomfiting viewpoint then so be it, for these are not entirely enlightened and enlightening times after all.

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