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Album Of The Week

The Distant Deep: Flowers Rot, Bring Me Stones By Moundabout
Will Ainsley , July 28th, 2022 07:17

Summoning the sounds of a lock-in at a pub for hobbits to the sleepless industry of the Earth’s very crust, a new album from Gnod’s Paddy Shine and Phil Masterson of Los Langeros has Will Ainsley listening deep

“As the Reeds spoke a great hurricane rushed out of the north. The Oak stood proudly and fought against the storm, while the yielding Reeds bowed low. The wind redoubled in fury, and all at once the great tree fell, torn up by the roots, and lay among the pitying Reeds.”

—‘The Oak & the Reeds’ from Aesop’s Fables.

In the same way a lump of rock is no force alone but may form an avalanche or a mighty cairn, the combined weight of the constituent parts on Flowers Rot, Bring Me Stones, the debut album from Moundabout, starts to suffocate deliciously. Impact comes not from the distorted guitars and pummelling drums that hitherto characterised the members of Moundabout’s music (Paddy Shine of experimental rock collective Gnod and Phil Masterson of ‘goat-punk’ outfit Los Langeros, among others) but instead an incremental accumulation of organic sound including hyperreal samples, close-miked vocalisation, super-clean guitars, and primitive percussion.

Like its songs, Flowers Rot… has a defined (and obvious) progression. It charts a path from ‘The Sea’ to the bog to the earth, where a brief breath of fresh air on ‘Lonely’ heralds a terrifying plunge through the underworld in ‘Dick Daly’s Dance’. We surface with ‘Cold River’, a song that relaxes some of the self-imposed conventions of the album by featuring wistful lyrics such as “Kick your shoes off and sleep next to me” and the first obvious use of a synthesizer. Where other albums are content to stay in one place; this one moves, shifts, intensifies as a semi-chiastic journey there and back again.

Flowers Rot… brings to mind the hidden qualities of the pillar stones (or gallauns) that litter Ireland. Though unassuming to the inexperienced eye, they are wreathed in lore, poetry, meaning, and, more literally, might stretch twenty feet below despite being only three feet above ground. Upon first listening to, say, ‘The Sea’ or ‘Bring Me Stones’ it’s tempting to ask – as you might if stumbling upon a gallaun – “is that it?” But listen deeper. The lyric “waiting to be found” on ‘Bog Bodies’ is a perfect descriptor for the way these songs just squat there, lying in pieces like dead wood on a beach, or indeed a cadaver underneath a marsh. You might realise halfway through a song that there’s a backdrop of humming, overtones, or unidentified found sounds. You are drawn further in with each recitation of a vocal refrain. Moods, loops, and mantras start to spiral and twist like a barber pole, or that concentric carving featured on the album’s sleeve. It’s all heady, enveloping, brown acid stuff.

‘Dick Daly’s Dance’, one of the album’s centrepieces, is where this ethos of slowly accumulating pressure, this sedimentary accumulation, is best evidenced. In the 2019 book Underland Robert Macfarlane writes how “Seen in deep time, stone folds as strata, gouts as lava, floats as plates, shifts as shingle.” Over eleven minutes of deep time, ‘Dick Daly’s Dance’ “folds”, “shifts”, and builds to a torrent of clangs, thuds, and cracks, a rain of percussion blebs. This song is like a theatrical interpretation of how Earth’s mantle might sound: some hellish forge soundtracked by squeaking metal, cartilage on stone, and a few genuinely quite scary (though almost inaudible) low-pitched reverberations. If the first few folky guitar-based tracks might be what the Hobbits listen to in The Green Dragon after last orders, when the candle flames have burned down to amber blobs and the ale replaced by harder stuff (don’t pretend those dudes didn’t get into some heavy psychedelics once the cameras stopped rolling), then ‘Dick Daly’s Dance’ recalls the sleepless industry of Isengard, the air jammy and thick with brimstone, orcish chuntering, and a war drum thumping in the distant deep.

But again, even ‘Dick Daly’s Dance’ is not a traditionally heavy piece of music; copious amounts of reverb hint at the space above and the caverns below. It’s a world away from the nose-bloodying beats of industrial techno, Caroline Shaw and Sō Percussion’s rattling claustrophobia, or even Steve Reich’s engineered clamour. Flowers Rot… can be delicate, fractured, even airy. Hold these songs up to the light and you might see the sun stream through. This rickety but traversable bridge between the limp and the powerful is one that Moundabout scale with confidence. Play it wrong and you arrive at whiny flannel like Linkin Park or Disturbed, but play it right and there you’ll also find the tension of SUUNS’s digi-warble laid over twisted jazz/kosmische workouts or Keeley Forsyth’s spectral folk. Vocals are stentorian but also pleading and plaintive. Scratchily-strummed guitars on ‘Waste Of Peace’, ‘Bring Me Stones’, and ‘Bog Bodies’ can seem lazily played, scratchy and hesitant, sometimes insubstantial, but once these parts are repeated and the odd frictionless blush of banjo starts to accent the main phrase, the various irregularities (a pop of reverb here, a harmonic there, the occasional deadened string strike) conjure images of a hundred spidery roots coming from one gnarled tree trunk. Listen deeper.

There’s a coherent production style – all hard panning and close-miked guitars – which lends the songs a widescreen quality that’s not always spacious, but full. The modest instrumental palette – a clutch of stringed instruments, vocals, a scattering of percussion – somehow spans the full harmonic range. Whether this is a result of the playing, production, or engineering I don’t know, but you can hear every click, scrape, and flutter of the plectrum sliding across metal strings, each crack in Shine and Masterson’s bruised incantations, each echoing percussive report ringing into silence, with those vocalisations providing a thrumming three-dimensional subsoil.

Everything has this magnified, dilated quality. Dick Dale’s playing in the 1960s was partly associated with surfing because his rolling, propulsive guitar lines imitated the build and climactic rush of a wave. Shine and Masterson’s playing also evokes the sea, though more the ceaseless movement of the rolling depths. Some of this is down to the heavy chorus effect used. Though chorus is something I’ve always held as pretty naff, here it makes chords seem to drip and shimmer like a sonic aranyhíd (a lovely Hungarian word for the glitter of sunlight on water). As well as the animalistic mewling on ‘Dick Daly’s Dance’ and devilish screech on ‘Bog Bodies’, those water samples in ‘The Sea’ are full-on and heady, as if the waves are slopping against your head rather than breaking on the beach. The seagull that squawks in your ear isn’t crying in the distance but is on your shoulder asking for a chip. Unlike exotica music where sound effects are peripheral, a cartoonish graphic on a postcard, when used on Flowers Rot… they contribute to a vividly-rendered photograph.

Conversely, the unplaceable elements also heighten this intoxicating effect. There’s a loop of what sounds like a banjo being methodically chewed up by a mincer in ‘Dick Daly’s Dance’, and it’s unclear what’s playing the woozy drone in ‘Waste Of Peace’, sitting somewhere between a concertina and an eldritch yowl. I love the strange spoken word verses on ‘Bog Bodies’. Masterson’s exaggerated enunciation can make the words almost hard to understand, such is the way he spits out consonants and luxuriates in vowels. Of course, he’s speaking English but the delivery lends it the timbre of an ancient language or somebody speaking in tongues. I referenced The Lord of the Rings earlier – there’s a definite lean into something fantastical and olde worlde in the songs. The unison vocals often have a lilting folk cadence that never strays far from the underlying root note, the mother tone. For all the potent, pungent imagery, lines like “how many bog bodies are waiting to be found?” and “flowers rot bring me stones / I want the lot” have a Black Sabbath-y flamboyance to them, like Spinal Tap’s ‘Stonehenge’ for the Weird Walk zine generation. Enjoy Moundabout’s strange argot, let it wash over you like the tide.

Without wanting to make this review sound too much like a corporate brainstorming seminar, this album isn’t always in broadcast mode but is often in exchange mode. Listen deeper – you excavate as much as you dig. The instrument palette is consistently re-used and refigured. There are call-and-response vocals. Eddies of fingerpicked guitar play off a central riff, and deadened guitar strums take the place of percussion. It feels almost self-sufficient, even renewable. Like Aesop’s reeds, Flowers Rot, Bring Me Stones finds a permanence not in physical heft but in limber resilience. For all the weighty durability the album’s nomenclature suggests, these songs have the endurance of a folk standard, hymn, or sea shanty, as if they could be played on any instrument by anyone at any point, their quiet power forever echoing down the strata.

Flowers Rot, Bring me Stones by Moundabout is available now on all digital formats. Pre-orders for the vinyl edition can be placed via Bandcamp . Due to delays at the pressing plant, the vinyl itself will ship out at the beginning of September