Wednesday 16 October 2013

The Low Countries - The Invisible Ray

Album review by

It's a little disappointing that 'The Invisible Ray' is serving as my introduction to Lancaster duo (with occasional helpers) The Low Countries, as after a decade of making records, this, their sixth album, we're told will be their last. Perhaps the pair will work together in the future or perhaps they have other musical plans, but for this incarnation the curtain is falling. On the plus side, there are a further five albums out there to investigate, so personally this isn't an end, but a beginning. They've never been world-beaters in terms of sales or fame, but plaudits don't seem in short supply, and we're supplied with segments of praise from various publications, some of note, some we don't know, but they have their fans, and I'd like to add The Sound Of Confusion to that list.

The band (as we'll refer to them, as the two main players have been joined at various points by other musicians) are generally described as indie-folk, which just about fits, although the music that phrase brings to mind is doing them a huge disservice. They're witty, they're psychedelic, they're individual, they're self-depreciating at times (they say about this album, "Two years in the making and destined to enjoy immense worldwide indifference") and they write some very good songs. You can see why the folk label is so commonly used. 'The One Who Got Away' has a traditional feel and is a song of loss made with subtle beauty and sadness, and it's little more than acoustic guitar and voice. 'Demons, Have at Thee' could be put into the same bracket despite a richer arrangement. The beautiful 'Sun Street' is flooded with harmonies and a gently bobbing bassline that does bring a more modern folk sound, and this great vocalisation is used again on 'Hummingbird', a more pensive, piano-led track that again shows a terrific standard of writing. Similarly piano-based is 'All Things To All People' which is a perfect example of the light-hearted lyrical style ("I hadn't cried since Inspector Morse died, I hadn't sworn since the children were born").

It's when they indulge in more colourful songs that they're at their best, as heard on the electric, twinkling 'Saved'; the classic British songwriting of 'Summer Doesn't Know Me' is delightful (think Ray Davis, Robin Hitchcock and other typically talented and unique individuals, even certain George Harrison and Paul McCartney tracks). 'Everyone's Mental' is the second song in as many days that we've featured about the perils of our nation's woefully inadequate attitude and approach to metal health (whilst maintaining a certain whimsical wit), complete with a great psych-pop sound that banishes the folk altogether. The shuffling 'Kite' is a slight curiosity, because while it maintains their British feel, there's a hint of Americanisation about the music, perhaps a slight alt-country influence, but this is subtle and is also mixed with a minor hint of Belle & Sebastian. The title-track, fittingly, takes every aspect shown by the album's other songs and combines them, perhaps giving a perfect snapshot of where the band were at during the time of recoding. It's another fine track on a record which doesn't really have any low points whatsoever. Signing off on this stage of their career is 'Long Story Short', a song that details with an ending ("You and I we got history, many tales to tell...") and then they're gone. 'The Invisible Ray' will most likely become a lost treasure. We just hope that in a few years it's uncovered and given the respect it deserves.

The Low Countries' website

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