Dean McPhee

Astral Gold

The Bradford guitarist's fifth album takes Roy Montgomery and Manuel Göttsching on a trip deep into the old weird Yorkshire

Dean McPhee, a guitarist from Bradford, has said in the past that titles for his instrumental songs come from the imagery conjured up by the music. That assertion (in an interview for this website) was a good 12 years ago, though, around the time of his first album; Astral Gold is his fifth, a compilation of sorts but one which feels highly self-contained both thematically and musically.

As regards the themes, and McPhee’s route to pairing them with his artful, fluid psychedelic guitar excursions, it seems they’re now more involving than was the case in his earlier recordings. Occurrences, esoterica and phenomena now inspire pieces, and their final forms. He’s also evolved his playing style quite significantly, albeit with an evident through-line that maintains common ground for each of his releases. Although an electric guitarist from the earliest of those, McPhee maintains solid links with the more experimental end of folk music, yet across these six numbers you might more readily think of new age, kosmische, and desert blues, plus the points where they intersect.

Two of the six are exclusive to Astral Gold, and offer high levels of atmosphere while conveying locations where there might be very little. ‘Lunar Fire’ is powered by a subtle yet determined bassline, McPhee letting go of the piece’s initial glassy minimalism to take his guitar on a Gottsching-ish wander. Later on, we’re treated to the sounds of an actual fire; the people behind annual Netflix smash Fireplace For Your Home presumably think such imagery can make viewers feel warmer than they actually are, so why not double up with this. The other new song, ‘The Sediment Of Creation’, runs to nearly eleven minutes and goes bigger on the wah and delay – echoing, as it were, Neil Young’s Dead Man OST and Roy Montgomery.

Preceding this is Astral Gold’s shortest piece, ‘The Second Message’, McPhee’s cap-tip to old weird Yorkshire in citing the 1987 Ilkley Moor alien abduction as its sonic guidance. A story that can be enjoyed by both believers and sceptics (the fifth and sixth sentences of its Wikipedia entry are proof that the platform can feature great comedy writing whilst keeping to the house style), as a guitar figure yawns, yearns and shimmers it’s easy to imagine our abductee-to-be surveying the misty vistas before a bout of Radiophonic interference infers an unearthly interruption.

This track and ‘Neptune’ are both taken from V/A compilations on the Folklore Tapes label, which McPhee has maintained links with since 2012; ‘Neptune’, says the guitarist, is actually inspired by Triton, one of the planet’s moons, and is perhaps the closest this album comes to ‘ambient’ as it’s commonly thought of. That leaves ‘Cosmos’ and ‘Ether’, previously sides A and B of a very limited lathe cut 7-inch on the prolific Reverb Worship label, and maybe a case where McPhee’s titles remain a little conceptually fuzzier. Working with more prominent basslines than usual, the sound design takes us into the vicinity of spacerock, whether the Steve Hillage strain or the sort of thing that mid-90s labels like Enraptured released in droves: it’s one of many related styles on this album that I’d be delighted to have back in vogue.

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