Intended more as an introduction than a best of, this trawls and remasters tracks from four of the band's five albums, although, strictly speaking, it wasn't until last year's Imagined Hymns & Changing Mantras, with the arrival of drummer Tim Heymerdinger, moog bassist Mariya Brachkova and viola player Alison D'Souza, that they were actually a group, previous having been a solo vehicle for pianist, guitarist and softly falsetto-voiced singer John Elliott whose experience of depression informs many of the songs.
Omitting Elliott's first release, the whole instrumental bedroom DIY assemblage, Electronic Sketches, the story proper starts with 2013's Dig For The Promise which provides three numbers. First up is 'Docklands', a dreamy reflection on the changing face of the Isle of Dogs and how, when the docks closed, their replacement by big business changed the world of those who lived their, dividing communities in their wake. Built around skittering electronics and electric piano, 'The Plunge' captures the disconnect of working at a demanding, fast paced job to which you're not suited and of summoning up the courage to dive into the unknown.
Written after leaving the Glastonbury Festival in the early Monday morning hours, the third, 'Through The Fields', is another electronics-based number, its pulsing wash evoking that comedown feeling.
Released the following year, Filthy Hunger was a five track mini-album, from whence comes two numbers. The lurching 'Why I Came Here' was written for the Southfields String Quartet, employing struck instruments to add extra unease to the off-kilter beat and the unsettling tone to the vocals. A similar mood and pace informs 'Where There's Smoke' with its melancholic strings, written for and about a friend going through dark times and feeling helpless to bring them back into the light.
Moving on to the end of 2015 and again featuring the quartet (of whom D'Souza's a member), 'The Fisher King' had somewhat fuller arrangements with both brass and sampled primary school children's vocals on 'Can We Hear It?' a dreamlike electronics-based track with a 7/4 beat and continuously evolving synth sequence that somehow manages to conjure Kate Bush and Pink Floyd. 'In This House' effectively evokes the sense of insomnia the lyrics address, the cello line underscoring the paranoia it can initiate. Sung with a weary resignation, the sluggishly-paced five and a half minute title track, born from a period of depression, takes T.S. Eliot's The Wasteland as inspiration, borrowing its use of 'Dayadhvam', the Hindu call for compassion, in the choruses.
By contrast 'Alive As' is positively rock n roll in comparison, building from bass notes and a repeated percussive pattern to evolve into a soul-tinged number about release that gathers the strings, keys and big guitar chords for the soaring climax.
Skipping over last year's Turn This Home Into A World EP, a collection of outtakes, remixed and a live recording, the remaining five numbers all come from their breakout recent album, among them the two part title tracks, the whisperingly sung, watery folksy guitar of the nervy 'Imagined Hymn' and the self-help instructions of 'Chaingang Mantras' featuring a somewhat occidental atmosphere and with Brachkova singing on the musically fulsome Orpheus-inspired chorus.
Underpinned by a steady, muted drum beat and swathed in eddies of strings, born from Elliott's experience of PTSD, 'Symptomatic' reminds me somewhat of Peter Gabriel while, tremulously sung, with its hints of Radiohead, 'Tumbling Snow' is a haunted piano-based love song that, despite the downbeat lyrics, is arguably the most immediately accessible number. However, it's the five-minute opening number, 'Day Is Golden', that ultimately takes the crown, a stately piano ballad of personal redemption with a discernible gospel undercurrent that draws on Elliot's experience of mental illness of "hanging by a thread" and the pain caused to those close, but, in its optimistic lyric, as it builds towards a climax and ebbing close, the eventual healing and emergence back into the light.
An absorbing and at times intoxicating snapshot of a journey, both personally and musically, I'm keen to see where the path takes them next.
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