FRACTURED AIR

The universe is making music all the time

Cubs: Perpetual Light EP

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“And I remember particularly when I was going to bed at night, she very seriously offered me my choice of a hot water bottle or a cat…And I chose the cat.”

—Sylvia Plath

Words & Illustration: Craig Carry

cubs_perpetuallight_craigcarry

The latest offering from Galway’s beloved psych-folk artists Cubs, the ten-track “Perpetual Light” EP (the thirtieth release by Rusted Rail), opens with the voice recording of Sylvia Plath taken from a radio interview, unearthed in 2010 from a new CD issued by The British Library, featuring little-heard recordings of Plath. The recording offers the perfect prelude to the magnificent “Gulliver”, where Plath’s poem – taken from her “Ariel” collection – provides the lyrics for Cecilia Danell to set music to. The resultant track typifies the quiet, dusty and beautifully understated ethos of the band where a beautiful spirit of freedom and enchantment are forever evoked by the collective’s output. “Perpetual Light” is the long-awaited follow-up to the beautiful “Willowfield” E.P. – also issued by Galway-based independent label Rusted Rail – and proved to be one of those wonderful hidden gems of the year. The fact that it did not prove to elevate the status of Cubs to more household names did not matter in the slightest. For any listener who come across the musical output of Cubs will soon realize this special band exist in a parallel world to that of commercialism and success.

One of the main departures on this occasion, is the elevation of Cecilia Danell as songwriter – and singer – more frequently than on the previous “Willowfield” set. For anyone who came across such compositions as the Danell-sung “When Skies Split Open” from the “Willowfield” EP will realize what a special voice it is. In a similar manner to Hidden Highways’ Carol Anne McGowan, a voice so special is worth far more than any amount of studio tinkering or overdub manipulation, as a voice so unique can provide such an impressive arrange of emotion, mood and tones. In fact, Danell is also a well-known artist and it is her artwork which adorns the sleeve (a still from her Super8 film called “You Had Another Skin”, which documented derelict places in rural Sweden).

Once the wonderful Danell/Plath “Gulliver” finishes, we hear Cubs member James Rider – almost in a carefree fashion – state: “Let’s play a song”, after which the instrumental title-track is played out (Rider on bouzouki and Keith Wallace on bead drum), a song born from spontaneity which forms a wonderfully hazy and dreamy atmosphere, culminating in the sound recording of the ebb and flow of waves. The piece forms a fitting bridge to the gorgeous folk lament “Hummingbird/McAlindens Lament”, sung by both Danell and Aaron Hurley. An eerie sense of suspense is also suspended in the song: “There is a car / over the hill / you will go far / just not far enough” which brings to mind the wonderful paintings by Irish painter Martin Gale (Gale’s “At The Landing”, perhaps) where nothing is quite as it seems. The sparsity and texture of the song would make it a perfect accompaniment to a Shane Meadows film (like the Smog, Calexico, M Ward and Gravenhurst aided “Dead Man’s Shoes”, for instance) or, indeed, the films by Ben Wheatley. The overlaying of a fuzzy and distorted sound recording brings to mind such artists as Musette and The Real Tuesday Weld and serves to create the feel of a campfire-lit setting on a starry night.

The sense of suspense is turned up a notch or two in “Stonewalker” where a voice recording – sourced from a mid-90’s sci-fi/supernatural TV show – forms the intro to the song: “I’m mostly scared of the woods…I see a lot of weird stuff…” the strange voice states, creating a “Twin Peaks”-like feel to proceedings. “The First Day of Winter” is arguably the EP’s standout track, a treasure of a song by Cecilia Danell recalling such folk luminaries as Karen Dalton or Vashti Bunyan. Lyrically, the song is also immense and showcases the true talents of Danell:

“And as the wind sweeps east outside
I take up watch by the fireside
And I make shapes on the windowglass
By rubbing fingers through the frost
Dream that we walk in glistening grass
Wherever moonlight takes us.”

(—Cecilia Danell, “The First Day of Winter”)

Lyrically, the song draws from nature and the changing seasons which provides the perfect subject for the meandering melodica intro (recalling Tindersticks’ wonderful film score for “35 Shots Of Rum” by french film-maker Claire Denis) and a lovingly arranged song (a hand drum kicks in at the halfway point to a wonderfully understated yet powerful effect). Both the vocal delivery and sense of rhythm is reminiscent of the late great Elliott Smith, as the song builds – layer by layer – to its nocturnal, windswept close. The DIY ethos and tactile interlude provided by “The Blessing Of Rest” (similarly played to the short interludes on Calexico’s 1997 debut “Spoke”) brings us to “White Owl”, another song on the EP written, sung and played by Cecilia Danell. There is a wonderfully hushed and dreamlike quality to Danell’s vocals here, echoing the ethereal vocals of Grouper’s Liz Harris. “Don’t let the quietness fool you” sings Danell, as the song feels as though it is a traditional lament handed down by generation to generation from some bygone era and distant past.

The next two tracks, “Shadowbrook” and “From The Wilderness”, are both short instrumental pieces. The former features a voice recording sourced from a 1970’s documentary TV show about the paranormal, hosted by Leonard Nimoy, while the latter (under a minute in length) features the sounds of a storm gathering pace and the sounds of church bells, a recurring motif across the collection. The EP closer is yet another gorgeous folk song written by Danell, “Taken To The Bed”, again reinforcing the recurring imagery of nighttime and sleep. The song itself recalls to mind the poetic and environment-informed subject matter of Colleen’s latest album “The Weighing Of The Heart” where much inspiration is drawn from the immediate surroundings. Imagery of reeds, pines, a jetty, storms and rainbows create a stunningly vibrant and deeply evocative song. The song’s outro again can’t resist the addition of a field recording, although here the recording is pitched perfectly, creating the perfect finale to a stunning EP:

“Ghosts are the surviving emotional memories of people who have died tragically and cannot leave the spot of their passing. They keep reliving their final moments over and over again like a phonograph needle stuck in the final groove. You see, ghosts are aware that they are dead.”

(—sourced from a 1970’s documentary TV show about the paranormal, hosted by Leonard Nimoy)

“It’s a frequent surprise” Danell and Hurley sing on “Hummingbird/McAlindens Lament”, and, like the beautifully mysterious and charming songbook of Cubs, the listener can similarly expect to be frequently enthralled and surprised.

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“Perpetual Light” EP is out now on Rusted Rail. For our previous extensive interview with Cubs, please click here.

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http://www.rustedrail.com/cubs2.html
http://www.rustedrail.com

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Written by admin

August 15, 2013 at 12:15 pm

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