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Gazelle Twin & Nyx
Deep England Ed Power , March 19th, 2021 09:20

Gazelle Twin collaborates with electronic drone choir NYX to dig up the bones of England's restless dead

Listening to Gazelle Twin’s Deep England is like being rocked to sleep by a werewolf dressed as a Morris dancer. Throughout her career, composer and producer Elizabeth Bernholz has demonstrated a devastating talent for burrowing under the skin and conjuring a body-horror dread. There is, in her fantastical and luxuriantly creepy soundscapes, something of a fairytale gone horribly amiss.

She shapes her music into especially distressing contours on this companion piece to 2018’s Pastoral, recorded with six-piece all-female electronic drone choir NYX and originally debuted in 2019 as a live performance project. The subject, as it often is for Bernholz, is England and the ancient darkness stirring beneath the topsoil of the present day.

Deep England takes its name from a strain of identity diagnosed by academic Patrick Wright as “this deep-frozen English nationalism.” It unfolds like chapters in a bedtime story that’s taken a plunge into the uncanny, as Bernholz deploys a shifting palette of wind instruments, textured shrieks, horror-movie FX, and lurching techno. Chiming church bells usher in opening track ‘Glory’, which quickly whips itself into a terrible rhapsody of female voices, like the ghosts of England’s unresolved sense of self swirling through all at once.

The folk horror sensibility that infuses the record is acknowledged directly on ‘Fire Leap’. This is a spectral rendering of the fertility song from The Wicker Man – one that makes the original sound like a Teletubbies singalong by comparison.

But, then, on gammon-hectoring thumper ‘Better In My Day’, we’re in a field somewhere at 4am, gyrating to a rave soundtrack from a sound system in the back of a hatchback. It is thrillingly disorienting: there is a feeling of being led off the beaten path by the mythical jester figure adorning the cover of Pastoral who for Bernholz embodies the dangerous and unprocessed tensions bound up in the English psychosphere.

Brexit and the dire forces it unleashed have prompted endless cud-chewing on what it is to be English. However, Bernholz goes beyond mere navel-gazing and brings to the table her experience of moving from Brighton to the remote countryside. She went in search of rural bliss, only to discover, in part, a green and unpleasant land bound up in reactionary conservatism and suspicion of outsiders

With Deep England, she drills into the marrow of a nation that in 2021 doesn’t really know itself and possibly doesn’t want to. The result is a fever dream splicing of Pan’s Labyrinth and a cider binge beneath an underpass that has got out of hand and turned unexpectedly nasty.

She references the 1990s – when English Euroscepticism metastasised from fringe obsession into mainstream political movement – on ‘Throne’, which is built around the Ennio Morricone Once Upon A Time In America sample last encountered on The Future Sound of London’s ‘My Kingdom’ from 1996. And then in sweeps the Wagnerian oblivion of ‘Golden Dawn’, with its unfulfilled promise of a new day breaching the horizon. The message, perhaps, is to never trust a pied piper – especially one promising to lead you to any sunlit uplands.