SUGARBUSH RECORDS part 6: TRAPPIST AFTERLAND
Sugarbush Records have carried out an extensive reissue programme of Trappist Afterland's back catalogue, starting with Afterlander which was reviewed in part 5 of this issue's Sugarbush feature. Since this album was released, the label also reissued God's Good Earth (originally released as a limited edition LP on Sunstone Records in 2016), and three earlier albums which had previously only been available as self-released CDRs.
The new pressing of God's Good Earth is on translucent olive green vinyl, with slightly rejigged artwork and sleeve notes. The happy-go-lucky, somersaulting Sungirl, who I'm guessing must be songwriter Adam Geoffrey Cole's daughter, is immortalised in song, set to an ecstatic Middle Eastern-inspired arrangement. Goodbye Joseph Merrick is beautiful, moving psych-folk with shades of the Kitchen Cynics. No More Summer Caravans is hazy and hypnotic psych-folk with luxurious Indian-style accompaniment. Chosen sets mystical lyrics to a heady mix of cosmic vintage synth, flute, harmonium and acoustic guitar. Treehouse by the Shore is a delicate and dreamlike song inspired by wanderings through nature, coming across somewhat like a more psychedelic Nick Drake. The album ends with the title track, a mind-altering blend of drones, Mellotron, chiming percussion, celebratory harmony vocals, and recitation from Adam's daughter Darcie.
Whereas God's Good Earth was performed by a 4-piece band plus Darcie Cole as guest, The Five Wounds of Francis Minor is almost entirely the work of the band's founder, multi-instrumentalist songwriter Adam Geoffrey Cole, with Darcie again lending her voice to one track. The album was home recorded on 4-track and originally received a low-key release as a self-issued CDR. This new vinyl edition is pressed on yellow vinyl, the front cover featuring Giotto's painting of St Francis receiving stigmata, while the back cover shows Adam in his recording room surrounded by exotic instruments and eerie, psychedelic, and nature-inspired wall art. The title track opens the album, an elongated and multifaceted combination of dark folk and Christian mysticism, the eerie atmosphere combined with the use of Eastern instruments recalling Stone Breath. The Psalm Remains the Same (Psalm 140) pairs a traditional-inspired folk melody with intense psychedelic backwards effects. Its lyrics of ghosts and spellcasting reveal the Christianity on offer here to be far from orthodox. Stars of the Wraith is blackened psych-folk with whispered recitations. The Pine Mouth Cup takes snippets of conversation between Adam and Darcie, here a very young child, and plays them backwards over an eerie, surreal and feverish psych-folk backdrop. Chain of Ponds is bleak and pensive folk, a steady and solemn drum beat running throughout.
On The Round Dance of the Cross, Trappist Afterland are a two-piece comprising Adam Cole and Adam Casey, both of whom are credited with a broad array of instruments, ranging from guitars and synths to ebowed krajappi, bowed banjo, Tibetan bowl and gong, hurdy gurdy, and even grandfather clock. Darcie Cole, Jane Cole, and Yvonne Casey also provide spoken word while Julitha Ryan contributes piano. Originally out on CDR in 2011, the album now gets a vinyl release through Sugarbush. Whores of Gomorrah opens with the ambient tones of the Tibetan singing bowl, adding rhythmic vocalisations and deep, ritualistic throat singing alongside the main song, a repeated chant that comes across like a sinister playground rhyme. An astonishing piece that taps into the same sort of menacing/playful juxtaposition as Current 93. Goodbye Captain Bell, Farewell Ricky Boys tells the story of a shipwreck, placed within a dark folk setting that uses the same melody as Goodbye Joseph Merrick from their later album God's Good Earth. The Seed Hatched a Sparrow is a primal dark folk track of epic proportions, accompanied by an effective mixture of acoustic guitar, hurdy gurdy, bells, and impassioned shamanistic chanting and drumming. Trappist Afterland/The Hermit Monk of Osbome is thrillingly intense underground folk with innovative use of vocal percussion, throat singing and chanting alongside a traditional-inspired folk melody. Atlantis Return (How Ricky Got His Wings) is an atmospheric slice of experimental folk incorporating swelling synth drones, bells and chimes. King & Swine/He Cut Himself With Stones is a multifaceted experimental folk piece combining song-based sections with inventive sound explorations. The track begins with the child voice of Darcie Cole reciting a nursery rhyme against a mix of atmospheric drone and intricate piano, whilst later on child voices are interspersed with the chimes of a grandfather clock, all heavily processed for a dreamlike effect. Possibly Trappist Afterland's darkest album, having more in common with the whole neofolk/dark folk/apocalyptic folk/experimental folk continuum than psych-folk, though its exploratory nature still has much to appeal to a psych-folk audience.
Completing the collection of Trappist Afterland reissues is Burrowing to Light in the Land of Nod, originally released on CDR in 2012. The line-up for this album is again Adam Geoffrey Cole and Adam Casey. Burrowing to Light begins with an ominous dark ambient soundscape, giving way to an intensely atmospheric underground folk song peppered with hurdy gurdy, bird noises, gongs, bells, and ritualistic shrieks, whoops and chants. Father=Sun Itself sets nature-mystical lyrics to a powerfully atmospheric arrangement blending folk, ambient and world music. The Crystal Wood has a lushly textured arrangement incorporating synthesised (but realistic) strings and trumpet, bird noises, drones, and assorted percussion. Spirit's Tongues is excellent psych-folk bookended by ecstatic vocalisations like speaking in tongues. My Own Light Divine is superb traditional-inspired folk with psychedelic and ambient elements, featuring some highly effective use of music box-like glockenspiel alongside hypnotic soundscaping. Leaving the Land of Nod has a hymn-like melody similar in places to Silent Night, accompanied by a heady psych-folk arrangement drawing from Indian and medieval European musics. This album provides an absorbing, all-encompassing listening experience; I was so transfixed by the music that I found it very hard to translate my thoughts about it into words, such is its mind-altering effect.
Trappist Afterland are surely to be counted among my favourite current bands. They have an innovative and personal interpretation of folk music that affects me on a deep emotional level. All their albums are greatly recommended. Huge kudos to the equally amazing Sugarbush label for making these albums more widely available. Visit www.sugarbushrecords.com and www.facebook.com/trappistafterland
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