Unpopular advent 2021 – day 1

Adam Geoffrey Cole – ‘Sunrise’ from Fallowing
Alula Down – ‘Caravan’ from Postcards from Godley Moor, Spring 2021

Adam Geoffrey Cole has been something of a fixture in the Unpopular firmament these past few years through his recordings as Trappist Afterland, each of which has provided an ecstasy of spiralling drone-entranced magic. 2021’s ‘Fallowing’ album however sees Cole detach the Trappist moniker and journey into slightly more traditional folk territory, where ‘traditional’ denotes the darker, earthier, more subterranean landscapes of ancient lore rather than something viewed through the possibly decalcifying lens of, say, a Cecil Sharp revivalism. In Coles’ folk music all the ungainly knots, burrs, welts and wounds stay in place. This is folk as hallucinatory spiritual confessional; folk as much a fervent rumble in the acid loam as a frolic in the sunlit copse. As on the Trappist Afterland records, Cole uses many of his songs to explore the complexities and eternities of religion, nature and spirituality in a 21st Century environment: Not so much a bitter question mark on the realities of daily existence as a beatific acknowledgement of impermanence. ‘Fallowing’ is a record that brings a shimmer of light to the gloom of winter and a shiver of chill to the harsh brightness of summer; is a record that spans hemispheres to bring balance to the soul. Breathe deeply and savour its pleasures.

I have Adam Geoffrey Cole to thank for my introduction to Alula Down, for it was at a Trappist Afterland show in 2019 that I first came across their beguiling improvisory ambient folk. The ‘Homedowns’ set of 2017/18 was a delight, although perhaps a little pretty and lacking in the strange, natural evocations of otherness displayed in live performance. Their ‘Postcards from Godley Moor’ recordings of the past two years, on the other hand, have very much risen to that challenge as they each tease out responses to the four seasons in spookily spectral yet deeply rooted form. Two of these collections appeared in 2021: ‘Winter’ in February and ‘Spring’ in June. As one might suspect given the release dates, each of these ‘Postcards’ sets are reflections on the season; echoes as much as contemporary evocations. Field recordings (“clock ticking, dog snoring”, “evening walk with fencepost banger”) blend with instruments traditional and homespun (nylon strung guitar, harmonium, Danelectro dc59) each conjuring atmosphere redolent of the season’s spirit. Icy chills and gently unfurling warmth permeate shorter traditional folk tunes and extended improvisations alike, Kate Gathercole’s exquisite vocal a unifying factor beamed in from the depths of the earth and the starlit heights of the heavens. Accompanied by a series of physical, printed art cards featuring notes, lyrics, drawings and ruminations, ‘Postcards from Godley Edge’ is both inevitably touched and informed by COVID lockdown isolationism and splendidly isolated in its own spectral space: Recordings that are simultaneously rooted in specifics yet beautifully and naturally out of time.

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