Formed in small Worcestershire village in 1979 by Simon and Justin Jones, inspired by the nascent post-punk movement and influenced by the landscape and history of the rural environment, Mother-Of-Pearl Moon, the line up now comprising the brothers alongside drummer Paul Hill, Colin Ozanne on keyboards and clarinet and bassist Grant Gordon, is the band’s fifteenth studio album, its genesis being a unique set of electric guitar improvisations crafted by Justin in the early morning and late night during a month in 2020 and then transformed into songs by Simon.
As with all their work, it’s a darkly cinematic and atmospheric work rooted in the natural world, drawing here on musical styles spanning the 1950s to the 1970s and such literary influences as Blake and Yeats. It opens with an instrumental drone intro before giving way to the spare, echoey tones of ‘The Whaler’ with waves of puttering drums and fragmented skeletal guitar, Simon intoning the tragedy of the lyrics (“There was a great whaler/Floating down from the east/Wrecked on the sand/Strewn across the flooded land/Its sails wrapped around the wiry trees/Flapping there in the spring breeze/And all the bits of place and paper were blowing… And all the butchers’ knives, harpoons and lives/Were swirling out… into the deep”) in a semi-spoken Nick Cave manner.
Vague Greek colours shimmer from guitars in the brooding, nocturnal settling of ‘Town Square’ (“The town is quiet now/And full of mystery/As I go down to the waterfront”), where the narrator describes how “A figure passes me…/He walks like a cat/In the dark through the square/Behind the door in Fish street/I found him sitting in my chair”, the river-man calling on him to “Come stand beside me/And watch the water flow” as “A horse runs through the square/Ancient air/And the woven lives of men”, suggesting the figure may well be Charon, the ferryman of the dead.
The title track with its spare bass throbs, keyboard swirls and distant guitar notes echoes the soundscape with an array of images rather than a linear narrative, conjuring “Green lamps hung from branches/Of trees dead” and “The courtesans in their rooms/Preening/Dressing/ Undressing” with “Broken light on the black water” as it slips into the sensuality of “Your subtle mind/Like a cat in the night/Threading softly around me/Tangled locks of your jet black hair”.
There’s an air of Cohen at his most minimalist with ‘This Path Through The Meadow’, again sketching a painterly image in the path made “By the feet of the woman-girl who strayed/In her work boots and bare feet/Through the thyme and sage” and evoking gothic unease with “Woods like towns with their sweet deceptive shade/Thorn locked and poison laced/To the outmost and human-less place/Lying foetal unwatched in uprooted earth/A distant ox baying/Still as a boulder cursed…Its bloodshot blinking eyes/Its rough tongue/And its twisting twitching thighs”.
Those of a more esoteric bent will recognise ‘Valdrada’ as a reference to the twin invisible cities in Italo Calvino’s Le cittá invisibili, where, built on the shores of a lake, with houses all verandas one above the other, on arriving there appears to be two cities: one erect above the lake, and the other reflected, upside down, the events in one mirrored in the other. Again, set against appropriately shimmering acoustic guitar, clarinet and tinkling keys, the lyrics are impressionistic (“Doors swinging open and closed/A woman with a plume fan/And a man tattooed giant/Strolling down the streets/And a girl twirling a broom”), the place populated by “Lost Minoans/Swimming in the deep black/Turquoise sea/Sunsets and murderers…/Card mechanics/And voluptuous whores”.
Stretching past five minutes, ‘No Mountains, No Horizons’ is the second instrumental, beginning sounding like a swarm of buzzing bees before a quiet storm of mournful wail and bluster blows in before it ebbs away into the distant. The rhythm and instrumentation building from a languid weariness to an urgent skittering, ‘Visions Of A Stray’ traces thoughts of Lorca’s poetry in its verses – “He had a vision of a woman/Walking though the corn fields/Pushing aside the ears of corn/Brushing away the years and the storms/
He had a vision of a man/Walking behind him/Holding out his hand and watching the sun/Waiting for someone” as it spans “a vision of a baby in a cot” and “a vision of an old man’s wrath”.
The keyboard-anchored melody backdrop cast as muted anthemic, swathed in nature and night imagery the spoken ‘Field After Field’ continues the heady poetic feel with “The thin moon frost/North pulling up oyster shells/Coins and rings lost/Hard pale green dusted fruit/Moves over her skin/In the shining grass/Plum trees blow/Their roots vein and flow” and “The scent of hay/Drifts minutely away/Into the jet black rooms of the houses” as “Her breath against him/The thin moon stars sweeping/Snake movement of their limbs sleeping”.
Named for the 20th letter of the Greek alphabet, ‘Ypsilon’ is the third instrumental, a circling spooked melody line that suggests a musical box stolen from a Henry Selick animation before the album closes with ‘Away From Me’, still couched in poetry but perhaps the most straightforward lyric in its ambiguous conjuration of loss, ghosts (“You walk/Through the door of my room/And stand there watching me/I see your hands and see your face/Come close to me”) and letting go (“I loose your hand and watch you float/Away from me/Your dress/Your scarf/Your slip/Your coat/Away from me”.
They don’t make music for instant gratification, you have to let it work its way inside you, permeate the senses and curl around the synapses, surrendering to its shadowy embrace and pagan pastoralism allure, but the musical morphine works an irresistible spell.
Artists’ website: www.andalsothetrees.co.uk
‘This Path Through The Meadow’ – official video:
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