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Alex Monk
Indiscreet Mirror Ben Graham , December 5th, 2013 12:52

According to its creator, Alex Monk's fourth album- the follow-up to 2010's wonderful The Safety Machine- "explores the tension between innocence and experience that late adolescence can evoke." I would say, however, that this is a very personal exploration of a very specific adolescence; one endured in a rural village or small town, introverted and largely alone, one more absorbed in nature, landscape and the changing seasons than social pressures, career ambitions and drunken nights out. Not that I'm suggesting that Alex Monk was a clean-limbed Boy Scout solely occupied by bracing country walks and pure thoughts of a subtly religious nature; the game-changing discoveries of sex, hash and LSD are surely the engines that keep this record turning, buried and unmentioned as they are. But if you're looking for a well-observed dissection and reflection of contemporary urban teenage existence, then you should probably look elsewhere. If, however, your transition from childhood to young adulthood can be reflected in an impressionistic collage of dream and memory, a sonic patchwork of acid folk and ambient electronics, then step through the looking glass and join Alex Monk on the other side.

Opening the album is the pensive, descending and skeletal riff of 'Trickster', possibly played on a spooked mandolin, as Monk's somewhat gothic vocal suggests "the journey inside is longer than you know" and "the trickster guards the myths you crave, pay him with tears to set you free." A near-universal mythic archetype, the trickster is the holy con man who, in fleecing you, reveals to you a greater truth, a profound wisdom. Often represented by the hare, the fox, or even the snake, the trickster may speak in riddles, or seem to be joking when he's giving it to you straighter than you've ever heard it before. Yet his greatest lesson is that you should question everything; don't believe a word, everything you know is wrong.

Here, Monk casts the trickster as the guardian of self-knowledge that comes at a cost, explicitly linking him to the pains and pleasures of post-pubescence through lines like "you're longing to know what burns inside." Certainly adolescence is the trickster's time, when every truth seems to be up for grabs, and every instinct tells you to rebel. Growth can only be won through transgression, yet confusion and doubt are the plagues of the season; and here comes the trickster with his pockets full of mushrooms and microdots, ready to shake reality up still further. Hand percussion and subtle bass join in unobtrusively, and the song seems to marry the mystical rune-walking of Six Organs of Admittance to the smoky glint of Love and Rockets' more understated, psychedelic moments.

The glassy, shimmering 'Syd The Shell' is appropriately reminiscent of Syd Barrett, as well as that more recent upholder of the English psych-naïf, dark pastoral tradition, Alexander Tucker. Indeed, Indiscreet Mirror holds its own as a companion piece to Glynnaestra, the rightly-lauded album that Tucker made this year alongside Daniel O'Sullivan as Grumbling Fur. Both are deeply autumnal meditations, bordering on the shamanic, that fuse acoustic instrumentation and traditional folk structures with experimental electronic outings.

Two instrumentals close the first side of this vinyl-only release: 'Rayday' emerges as an analogue electronic lament, primitively melodic and shading into modal folk territory as rustic birdsong rises in the background. The effect is like stumbling into some isolated, post-civilisation Dorset village where the locals play half-remembered Kraftwerk songs on the hurdy gurdy and do a strange, robotic Morris Dance. Then 'Threlena' shifts and moans around the steady pulse of a minimalist drum machine, wordless vocals and synthesised drones inviting trance states alongside a hypnotic, serpentine bass figure.

Indeed, Indiscreet Mirror ultimately penetrates the occult, post-industrial pagan folk territory occupied by Current 93 and Coil, as acoustic guitars and ARP synthesiser swarm like the vengeful ghosts of vanished bees on 'Pluckley Follies.' "We dance Capadoccian labyrinths, gardens wet with the night, a spinning orb in broad daylight," Monk sings, sounding more than ever like a contemporary Syd Barrett, his voice straining and swooping, finding odd melody outside of conventional harmonic lines. 'Third Spring' conjures desolately beautiful rural landscapes, while the buried rhythm track of 'Shadowflight' summons subterranean railways, and phantom steam engines still running on Beeching-cut lines, now overgrown and returned to the forest, the province of adventurous dog walkers and penurious romantics.

A gorgeous and uncanny album, dark yet warmly inviting, Indiscreet Mirror engages ears, intellect and emotions. Grab it fast- limited to two hundred copies, it deserves to be heard and treasured by many more.

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