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The Inward Circles
Belated Movements For An Unsanctioned Exhumation August 1st 1984 Joseph Burnett , April 23rd, 2015 12:57

It is an easy pitfall to imagine that Richard Skelton's previous music, be it under his own name, A Broken Consort, Carousell or in tandem with his partner Autumn Richardson, is introverted, when actually it is anything but at heart. Recordings are often made in isolation, yes, but Skelton has always been reaching outwards into the landscapes that inform his music, translating their austere beauty into music that in turn extends into the ears and hearts of listeners. The music of Skelton and Richardson is communal in the same way that the more restrained forms of English folk are, (Anne Briggs, for example) something born from remoteness that resonates with the collective. The exception is The Inward Circles, another solo project of Skelton's that sees him turn his gaze, well, inwards, towards realms that owe as much to the imagination and mythology as they do to the land he traverses.

The focus of his interest for Belated Movements For An Unsanctioned Exhumation August 1st 1984 is the Lindow Man, the body of a 20-something man removed from a peat bog in Cheshire who probably lived - and was violently killed - at some point in the Iron Age. Rumours abound that he was ritualistically sacrificed and the Lindow Man remains an enigma to archaeologists and a fascination for a public keen to find liminal ties to the UK's ancient, almost mythical past. As indicated by this album's title, for Richard Skelton, however, the exhumation remains morally dubious, and the whole record stands as a defiant exercise of the imagination: Belated Movements… is a journey into the earth and into Skelton's mind, a vision formed of the Lindow Man achieved without disrupting the poor fellow's last resting place.

Unsurprisingly, for an album centred on death, Belated Movements… is sombre, even morose in tone. 'Petition For Reinterment' (again the title speaks volumes) is the centrepiece, nearly 30 minutes of Richard Skelton at his most emotional, albeit in ways that differ from works like 2009's Landings or *AR's Succession. Superficially similar to his tone on those works, his bowed guitar and other string lines are melded more closely together and pitched lower and lower, so that a tune that starts out familiar slowly descends into realms that feel unsettling and laden with portent. Like many a drone track, especially of this length, 'Petition For Reinterment' builds up gradually, with notes extended and lingered upon so as to demand attention whilst also drifting in and out of focus. Skelton's genius is in the way he captures the balance between these two poles, dwelling on every line by superimposing more distant, inchoate drones and stretching tones, but always keeping his music in motion, even if it's circular. His approach enhances the emotional resonance of the piece even as its message and purpose remain oblique, and all the while he continues to add additional layers of tone. Previous Inwards Circles albums saw Skelton turn to electronics to provide additional esoteria to his potent string drones, and on 'Petition For Reinterment' high-pitched, hazy white noise gradually bubbles out of the seesawing e-bowed lines like a layer of fog cascading down a mountainside. What had once seemed warmly intimate is gently but arrestingly pitched into the unknown, and an aura of sepulchral ambience descends on the listener like a funereal veil.

When the strings loops return in force, they are as rays of light piercing the darkness of a tenebrous underground. And yet, the melancholia that defines so much of Skelton's work, not least The Inward Circles, is more acutely felt than ever on Belated Movements For An Unsanctioned Exhumation August 1st 1984, as Richard Skelton, a modern day musical Charon, carves a labyrinthine route through the dark. 'To Your Fox-Skin Chorus' features some of the most diverse sounds ever to punctuate a Skelton composition, with wisps of synths forming ectoplasmic choirs and what appears to be (sampled?) brass instruments throbbing skywards like foghorns. Belated Movements For An Unsanctioned Exhumation August 1st 1984 is a pointed elegy to a man denied a peaceful life and then disturbed of a peaceful death 2000 years later, and so where usually Skelton's music provides peace and comfort, however wistful, here it is fitful, even fearful, as if this journey into a daydream of reinterment makes Orpheuses of both composer and listener. At times, it's a beautifully uncomfortable album to listen to.

'Canis, Lynx, Ursus: Awake, Arise, Reclaim' sounds a bit like a Godspeed You! Black Emperor song title, but is altogether a more nuanced work. Mournful piano suggests a finality, but the swirls of jagged string drones confuse and confound, whilst gristly electronics provide a growing snarl that belies its gentleness. It's the sound of primordial forces being dredged up alongside the Lindow Man, the earth rebelling as 21st century humans continue to exhume and defile the land. In an age where fracking continues to occupy the forefront of political discourse, suddenly Belated Movements For An Unsanctioned Exhumation August 1st 1984 takes on yet another fresh meaning, and transforms Skelton's inner, sombre musings from earlier in the album into something altogether more universal.