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Alison Cotton
Only Darkness Now Tom Bolton , November 3rd, 2020 09:05

The new album from Alison Cotton contains whole worlds in its viola-led songs, finds Tom Bolton

The first solo album from Alison Cotton, All Quiet at the Ancient Theatre, was a masterful set of pieces that evoked ruined temples, heat shimmer and smoke curling from smoldering herbs. In her work as half of The Left Outsides, Cotton uses her wide open vocals to create electro-folk songs that sound as though they’ve been around forever. Recording solo, she strips the music back to make the sounds contained in fields and stones audible and eloquent. Only Darkness Now, originally out on cassette, is now available as a full release. Her second LP contains mysteries that unwind at the pace of a season changing, a time lapse of a record.

Only Darkness Now consists of one long track and four shorter pieces. ‘Behind the Spiderweb Gate’ (20.37) weaves viola over drone and wordless vocals that seem to come from a landscape suspended in time, moving and changing at its own pace. There is an entire world in here, from darkness to light, a complex track that seems simple at first but continually unfolds new layers of sound and association. ‘In Solitude I Will Fade Away’ is an eerie interlude with Cotton’s multi-tracked voice intoning strange lyrics of loss and retreat. ‘How My Heart Bled in Bleeding Heart Yard’ which, like all Cotton’s tracks, has a great title, features a harmonium in deep mourning. A further interlude, ‘The Hill Was Hollow’, taps legends of secret realms through an expressive viola. Finally, ‘Shirt of Lace’, a cover of a song by the American psych-folk-medievalist singer Dorothy Carter, sounds like a Gregorian hymn echoing across the hedgerows.

This is an expressive and thoroughly absorbing album, which envelops the listener and takes them to places that seem both familiar and terrifying, halfway between inner and outer worlds. Like Laura Cannell, with whom she shares both instrumentation and a powerful ability to communicate the uneasy groans emerging from the earth, Cotton has tapped into a rich vein of music that seems urgent and essential. Only Darkness Now pays the same microcosmic attention to place that many have found themselves exploring, often involuntarily, during lockdown. Cotton shows us how we can pull the curtain aside and step beyond time to confront ourselves in new forms. Worlds can be discerned behind the veil of reality, and Only Darkness Now opens the door.