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Edward Penfold
Denny Isle Drive Brendan Telford , February 6th, 2018 10:53

Backwards-looking, forwards-thinking, sideways-slanting pastoral folk from Edward Penfold

Sometimes all you need in life is some backwards-looking, forwards-thinking, sideways-slanting pastoral folk that paddles in the stream that Robert Wyatt and Nick Drake bathe their loins in. And lucky for us, Edward Penfold has bottled that water and turned it into his second record, Denny Isle Drive. The fact that it came to us as winter ominously builds is no mistake, for the autumnal shades and sun-glanced ambles that permeate these eleven tracks are the kinds of sojourns that will help us escape the bullshit of last year and help to galvanise for the bullshit of the next.

The plaintive strumming and even plainer baritone drawl that opens the album on ‘Conker’ is pure kitchen sink whimsy, even as our protagonist, an educated boy with no practical skills, finds himself “Seven years behind the land/who left school when he was young to do plumbing with his dad.” It opens up into a sonorous choral twinkle, where he wishes for a continental European holiday but that is but a pipe dream (Penfold here mentioning Dire Straits as a pun while namechecking ‘Twisting By The Pool’ is one of many quaint yet measured comical asides throughout the album). The title also hints at childhood innocence, the autumnal playground game one that is slowly slipping into nostalgia just as is working class success and a connection with our brethren across the Channel.

‘Spring Parade’, with its easy twang and soaring yet lackadaisical harmonica, echoes Harvest-era Neil Young rambling on a sunny afternoon with Ray Davies, finishing with plinking on a sea air warped pianola at the end of sepia-toned yet dilapidated ocean pier. It celebrates the yin and the yang (“Sleep so I can wake/Stand so I can sit”) before gushing that “I’m glad to have spent my time with you.” The puns continue to fall on ‘Betsy’s Linen’ where over a plaintive, almost tuneless twang Penfold murmurs “Mixing my words with my drinks/And pour it all down the sink.” He finds his piece of mind and opens up into a slow thrum as he ruminates on getting tongue-tied. The harmonica (or is it a wazoo?) comes out again for ‘Bungalow White’, but its mournful caw plays like a paisley Ringo Starr haze.

I love ‘Northern Hemisphere’ for its Englishness, embracing the quaintness and what makes winter less shit (“Sunday to the country/walk the dogs/eat the roast/the quintessential way”). ‘Bullfrog’ is even more esoteric and grandiose for its love of the past, with its soaring arrangements and gossamer production feeling like a legitimate lost work from the British folk explosion of the 60s.

I also enjoyed ‘Suntan’ and ‘Cactus Shadow’, the one-minute piano and violin instrumentals that remind you that this album is the snapshot into Penfold’s thoughts about the British rural existence, almost like mini vignettes scoring melancholy interactions behind frosted windows, peering into domestic homes.

By the time the wistful McCartney-esque piano of ‘Garden Fresh’ peters out (an elongated closer that continues to incrementally build like a bucolic yet calamitous orchestra, just to falter and have to start all over again), you can’t help but feel like you’re caught in a prism, like drinking in an alcove under the boardwalk at Brighton pier, perhaps, or fuzzily succumbing to the dust mote haze and bookish taint that invades the senses of the dustiest of second-hand exchange stores.