THE LOW DRIFT – The Low Drift (Cwm Saebren Records)

The Low DriftA new folk-based collaboration between Matt Hill aka Quiet Loner with Emma Thorpe and Huw Costin, both of whom worked with the late Mark Lanegan, The Low Drift is probably the only album you’ll encounter written under the guidance of psychogeographers as, inspired by the likes of Julian Cope, Robert Calvert and Kate Bush, they explore the paths less taken of the British countryside, the edge-lands and barren fields, for songs about family, childhood and the memories that landscapes evoke.

Thorpe on soft brushed lead to a backdrop of flute-synth, ‘Deadwood’ opens proceedings with a  vision of “comets, fields burning, earth turning, clay furroughs in ancient ground”  as she sings “I am deadwood I always have been so…We buried treasure, we buried love/We buried time, time, time”. Costin takes over for the sparse echoey strum of the bluesy John Martyn influenced ‘Come Alive (A Second Time)’, a  bleak portrait of the South Wales valleys where  his father lives, of the legacy of environmental issues (“Thirty years ago/A story in the paper/About chemicals leaking/From an old abandoned waste facility”) on the health of the  last generation of coal miners (“Kath’s got new teeth/Fifty quid a week/For the foreseeable future/The old one’s wore away/From the morphine/For her back/That wouldn’t let her rest”).

Sounding like a dark bucolic folk answer to CS&N, Hill on vocals, ‘Everything Flows’  speaks of connections in the natural world (“The moss on an iron bridge/A horse on a distant ridge…A space where no one has stood/A path taken by the flood”) while a skeletal piano-based ‘Then Came The Rain’ brings Thorpe back, her vocals counterpointed by Costin on a celebration of the power of nature to revive (“Soaked me to my skull/Euphoria Euphoria”) and reinvigorate (“I feel we will conquer the day the darkness and all time”). 12-string guitar bedrocks ‘Breezeblocks’, another evocative delve into childhood memories (“Out to the brand new road/The tar is sticky hot to touch/Soft and clean beneath my toes/Under young bright hopeful clouds/Under the morning sun/The dirt between the tufts of grass/A racing track for our toy cars”) and a desire to reconnect (“It’s time I went back to that place/I want to take you there with me/Till you never see that place/You’ll never understand/The stone that lies inside that field”).

Fingerpicked and featuring all three on vocals, ‘Bleaklow’ is named for and about the  high, peat-covered gritstone moorland in the Derbyshire High Peak near Glossop where, “time unravels”  in visions of centuries past, “balls of light glow on the Gathering Hill” (a pathless local mountain) and “Roman legions drill/In the moonlight” and  “metal fragments rust”  at the crash site of the USAF Boeing RB-29A Superfortress which came down on  Bleaklow in November 1948.

Built around an appropriately rippling fingerpicked pulse, Thorpe weaving a fey vocal ambience with  Custin harmonising, populated by “sons of miners” and “daughters of the ground”, ‘Us And The Water’ again resonates with “echoes of the past” and emotional trauma (“beauty turned her face away/Oh my God I thought it was the end/But it was just the start forging my broken heart”) as she sings “The Earth here is scattered I wear the scars would you bury my heart at forest deep/Still I do not love you, you broke me/You woke me from the most sublime dream/I see visions of the grave”.

Sung by Hill, a former member of the ‘Ley Hunter Society’, exploring earth energies, dowsing and mystery lights, with Thorpe on backing,  the spooked but melodic ‘A Gift of Unknown Things’ with its circling fingerpicked guitar talks of  how “These islands are haunted/By more than just ghosts”, of   “old chalk figures and standing stones, fairy paths and spirit roads”, and again makes very specific geographical and historical references to the dissolution of the   monasteries in 1549, Merlin’s grave,  Devil’s Bridge in Wales, Arthur’s Seat in Edinburgh, of Roman steps, goose fairs and of “buried giants that wait to rise” and “huge black dogs with glowing eyes”. These are the  “things out there we can never know/Places we can never go”.

The Low Drift ends with the atmospheric ‘Monyash’, an instrumental field recording with shruti box drone and vocal harmony improvisations recorded in the Monsal Tunnels in the Peak National Park, a haunting, atmospheric close to an album that brings a welcome new musical perspective on our connection to the land.

Mike Davies

Artists’ website:

‘Deadwood’ – official video:

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