“Orthodox Tales” by Andrew Sherwell (Whitelab Recs) is an album released back in January which I have only just got round to having an in-depth listen to. Mastered by Stephen Mathieu it, like the Bedroom release reviewed recently, is one where it can stop you in your tracks when you hear it.
“Orthodox Tales” is the debut album from West London, UK-based artist Andrew Sherwell. He was part if a stream of bands in and beyond his teenage years centered initially on jangly post-punk funk. The band’s name would change routinely each time a band member left which was regularly and eventually, it was Andrew left as the band grew more and more experimental in their approach.
Andrew is still an avid collector of physical records and thanks to inspiration drawn from Svarte Greener, The Caretaker and Xela as well as eastern european choral music, film and soundtracks, Andrew has been increasingly inspired to create his own experimental music.”
The tracks contained on the album are inspired by takes told to him by his grandfather who would travel between WW1 and WW2.
“His grandfather recounted wild tales of ‘adventuring’: of the people’s he mer and their folk tales, of days lost in endless forests, of nights camped out on a sea of grasslands when the frost was so hard that his blanket twinkled in the moonlight, as brightly as the myriad stars above. He told of feasting with mountain goat herders and with Orthodox bishops, of shape shifting Shaman and of beautiful princesses , of demons and of angels in human form. After a while he’d be lost, transported to the magical world of his descriptions.”
“In Baba’s Yaga Hut” according to European folklore “Baba Yaga flies around in a mortar, wields a pestle, and dwells deep in the forest in a hut usually described as standing on chicken legs. Baba Yaga may help or hinder those that seek her out and may play a maternal role and has associations with forest wildlife”. Musically the track starts of with granular sound, layered haunted female voice, field recordings and swirling storm like drones and sounds that sound like that are lightly billowing around. You get the feeling of music that has been discovered via an ancient recording that has been weathered over the decades. The sounds contained herein sound more like a an environmental recording than musical composition – but one that is graced by a haunting and eerie quality which draws people in. It’s almost as if you are in the distance listening to a bizarre religious ceremony. You can see why The Caretaker is an influence as it shares that ‘recording from the past feel. A perfect way to start off the album.
“Of Vasilissa’s Beauty” the story of Vasilissa is a Russian fairy take which features the above Baba Yaga in it. There is a musical connection to the aforementioned track, but this one, while retaining the gritty granular feel of its predecessor (probably more granular actually) loses the haunted quality and replaces it with lush long drones that are somewhat submerged. The drones have a light, radiant sound and battle under the detritus to be clearly heard, much like the character in the story who is treated badly by her stepmother who was conscious about hiding her beauty.
“And The Smoke Of Incense” the opening sounds are like a loop of a film projector running at speed before a whispy drone turns into a more ominous one which has a throat singing quality to it. Static, harsh ambient tones and bursts of sound followed by silence break up the track. The piece is a like a growing organism that from time to time is halted. Church bells sound alongside the harsher drones as the ‘throat singing’ drone hovers in the background before swallowing up the track and fading to a glacial harshness, the glitches and the return of the projector. I am not sure of any folk story that could be compared to the track, but its like watching some old film footage that has been damaged and watching what you can through the decay.
“Cathedral Doze” starts of with a cinematic start of possible boots stomping or suitcases being closed, screaming vocal like drones and a haunting horn drone that comes in waves a loops like a fragment of a sound on eternal repeat. The music maintains a submerged texture as if at times its trying to punch through, while some sounds come through crisper than others. The use of loops in tandem with drones allows for variance in the track and helps build on the motifs, makes for an intriguing listen as you try to decipher the back story to what has influenced the track. I am none the wiser, but that does not bother me as it opens up endless possibilities.
“A Mesultane’s Flight” a “Mesultane can see into the world of the dead and can communicate with the souls of the departed. In return for gifts she will establish contact with the souls of the departed and ask about their well-being, their needs and the threat of evil.” The track begins with vinyl crackle before a long multilayered pulsing drone slowly emerges and becomes the focal point. A choral voice with a slightly distorted edge breaks through which enhances the more melodic undertone drone. Another section of a different vocal element enters with a cut up sound, before the choral one returns and focuses the attention on the theme of the track. With some of the fairy/folk tales covered in the album being female characters, you get the feeling that the female voice is that of Mesultane’s and the male of a person trying to establish a connection to the recently departed. Musically the track relies on a minimal amount of elements and conveys a sort of abandoned waste land which could be the difference between the worlds of the living and the dead.
“Beware Koschei’s Visit” in Slavic folklore Koschei is a tall an inhumanly thin man who is an antagonist and steals the hero’s wife. His character has appeared in a variety of forms of art from Stravinsky’s ballet “The Firebird” through to Hellboy comic books (where he appears as a slave to Baba Yaga). The idea is that you don’t want Koschei around as it is incredibly hard to kill him by conventional means. The track furthers the throat singing drone of the previous track, but this time it feels, possibly due to the character of the title, more ominous and with a sense of dread. Chimes clatter and bang while a liner drone cuts through as this swell of vocal drones swirl around like an impending storm. The texture of the music gets darker, grittier and claustrophobic leading to Scattershot noises that fire off in the distance. The way the elements build upon each other and the intensity in which they rise gives the feeling that Koschei’s arrival is imminent. After a relatively subdued section, the music starts its ascent once more and a whimpering voice can be heard which begs the question has Koschei arrived? The music returns to familiar sounds of the throat singing drones and glitches before fading away to silence. So, did Koschei take what he came for? If you asked me, yes he did.
Traditionally I don’t always embrace music that has a theme that runs through the core of it. However, for this release I feel that Sherwell has executed those stories told by is grandfather all those years ago into a cohesive work of art. The original release sold out almost instantly but the digital version is still available and a physical version as part of the Whitelab Rec’s 21-40 box set (of the 20 releases from the “Whitelab Sounds” compilation through to Daliah’s “White Mountain”) is an option. This is well worth a listen. Recommended.