`Rural Eerie’ by Flange Circus
Review by Jim Peters
`Rural Eerie’ is the new album from electronics and hauntronica trio Flange Circus available as a digital download and limited edition DVD in which they set out to explore the strange side of the countryside through sounds and words. Much like the Wyrd Harvest Press publications, who’s profits go to the Wildlife Trust, allprofits from the digital sales of Rural Eerie will, most fittingly, go to the Woodland Trust.
Introduction track Mouldy Heels soothes the listener ready for this nostalgic journey through sound with the kind of ambient drone that is the staple of any modern horror film but plenty of fresh touches to hold the listener’s attention. Strangely aquatic sounding birdcalls filter through the swirls with an echo that William Orbit would be proud of before heavy synths prelude an ominous piano refrain – A refrain that seems to come from the same place in our musical past as that of The Rolling of the Stones. All this before the introduction of some dramatic treated vocals that have a Wagner feels that hints at the gothic, pagan pomp of some of the finest Nordic drones and Runic rock…. building, building always building until we are primed and ready for the rest of the album – and remember this is just the introduction.
The rest of the album is a mixture of these musical/soundscape interludes that serve to shift the focus and reshape the landscape between collages of spoken word and poetry. It is an approach not dissimilar to how John Cameron scored Kes with the music only coming to the fore during the scene setting between the visual poetry created by Ken Loach from Barry Hines’ words.
`The countryside: a place of tranquility, less compromised by modern life, harmonious communities, innocence and safety. This much is the rural idyll. Yet the rural is also the unknown rustling in the hedgerow as the country lane is traveled at night. It can be the half-seen shapes and shadows in the woodland and copse; the desolate hillside, the treacherous rocky crag; the lone leafless tree atop the knoll. The countryside is the space where supposed closely-knit social ties become like suffocating and impenetrable knot weed to the outsider, the incomer, the blow-in. It is the place of curious rituals, wyrd practices and often unfamiliar and still-surviving lore: a space haunted by the ghosts of occluded pasts. Beyond the supposed rural idyll malevolent forces often work, uncanny sensations prowl and the eerie is always lurking and ready to be encountered.’
The album plays out as an inspiring, evocative, and at times mesmerizing tapestry of music, sound, spoken word, and poetry. Sepia tinted reminisces, self-fulfilling ritualistic behavior, tales shrouded in the warm breath of the land, and imagined histories now made real. The collective that have been gathered to create this wonderful body of work is made up from a core of musicians and a number of poets and writers who were commissioned for the album. Each provided a selection of evocative keywords from their work which informed the music and soundscapes and so the album slowly evolves and morphs with each new voice taking the listener on rewarding journey.
The musical side of the album is in the very safe hands of the three members of Flange Circus:
Pete Collins: Keyboards, Programming, Noises.
Bon Holloway: Keyboards, Programming, Field Recordings, Noises.
John Taylor: Keyboards, Accordion, Noises.
With field recordings collected from various rural locations in: Derbyshire, Lincolnshire, Oxfordshire, Norfolk, Suffolk, and North Yorkshire it is not just the locations of this. It aural harvesting that shape the album. It hangs heavy with the air of the northern climes of this sceptred isle with the spoken word conjuring up the past and present of the North West – of the Lancashire landscape carved at and reformed by the long faltered advance of the industrial revolution and also of the uncompromised liminal spaces left untouched in-between. This is almost how the album is presented with the musical excerpts in-between the spoken word. It is as if the listener is swooping over a land of patchwork fields each with a story to tell and a memory to be harvested from the furrows below.
There has been is a beautiful moment of synchronicity as I listen and re-listen to this album and write this review with the warm summer breeze bringing me the majestic mewing of the Red Kites through my open window adding to the listening experience. At times it has been hard to discern if the field recordings seemingly woven into the tracks are from my garden or already on the album. It’s a beautiful occurrence and one that has made listening to Rural Eerie even more magical.
The overall effect of this collection of works is one that feels rewarding, as if you have just been shown something very precious and special from its creators and this is result of the different voices and tones of the words being fed to us. With the post-production and additional atmospherics, the musicality of these voices is brought to the fore. The first spoken word section is a wonderfully effective and evocative example of this with Emily Oldfield’s voice becoming another instrument – her soft tones and soothing delivery wraps itself around the lyrical language she employs to tell her tales and the listener is drawn in and given a seat at the bedside.
Even the title of the album `Rural Eerie’ and the names given to the instrumentals summon up a simpler, if darker, past…. of times before cities, roads, and the railways brought everything together. A change that instead of allowing stories and experiences to be shared and spread molded them together into an excepted version of our past that had no time for ancient beliefs nor a life shared with our landscape. It feels like it is this change and what came before that it that Flange Circus are trying to address with `Rural Eerie’ with references to ‘Mould Heels’ (the nickname of Katherine Hewitt one of the Pendle Witches), ‘Godspeed the plough’ (a banner from a news item about rural customs), and ‘Nineteen Corvids’ which is a play on Covid 19. This in turn links to Louise Holloway’s reading of `Desolation’ which is itself about Eyam (the famous plague village in the Peak District) and includes some recordings of the recent clap for carers.
In the challenge of addressing these themes – very successfully fulfilled – it seems on paper that Flange Circus tread the same furrow as the likes of Sproatly Smith and although the two are very different musically I would love to see these two share a bill sometime or maybe even collaborate. That aside I am more than content with Flange Circus to conjure up these many different and varied bucolic, musical tales –` real, half-remembered, imagined, absent and present’.
This is an ambitious project and the results are fantastic. I highly recommend this to anyone with a love of folk music, electronica, poetry, our rural past, the voices of the landscape, and real genuine talent.
You can download the album from – https://flangecircus.bandcamp.com/