We last (first) heard of Trimdon Grange Explosion in 2010, when they released a single on Great Pop Supplement, a cover of Judy Henske and Jerry Yester’s ‘Raider’. Of course we knew the band members before that: Alison Cotton, Mark Nicholas, Karl Sabino and Ben Philippson were part of the greatly admired and much-missed The Eighteenth Day of May. But, apart from individual projects, we heard nothing else of TGXP until the debut album landed this year.
And what a record! It plays with tradition but is utterly contemporary and is best described as hyphenated folk; the tags “alt-”, “acid-” and psych-” could all be appended to the “folk” on this record. The centrepiece is ‘The Bonnie Banks Of Fordie’, whose traditional lyrics of death and dishonour are newly arranged by TGXP to 10 minutes of pulsing Velvet Underground rhythms and fields of fuzzy and phase-shifting guitars. Album closer ‘Glass And Sand’ reverses the pattern with lyrics by Ben set to a traditional tune, though one which gently smoulders then explodes into spacey effects.
The songs have a dreamy feel, best likened to the historical reimaginings of Ben Wheatley’s ‘A Field In England’; the space they occupy is outwardly familiar but has a sense of menace and magic too. ‘Poor Wayfaring Stranger’ might be traditional but Alison’s haunting voice and mournful viola, hitched to a primal percussive heartbeat, transports it to a shadowy netherworld of loss and emotion. ‘Twenty-Four Hours’ takes that English folk-format and dissolves it in droning viola and chiming guitars. ‘Weeping And Wailing’ might sound ancient, particularly the way Alison’s sorrowful vocals apply a patina of doom, but it’s actually a more recent composition by former-miner and Sahara explorer Ted Edwards. The guitar-plosive ‘Heading For A Fall’, meanwhile, is like Richard Thompson at his most scathing.
The stand out song, for a number of reasons is ‘Christians’ Silver Hell’. Melodic, jangling 90s-style guitar pop with a charmingly ramshackle feel, it’s a marriage of Big Star and Dinosaur Jr, or the best Teenage Fanclub tune you never heard. It illustrates what works with TGXP: a communion with tradition but a fearless ability to mix up styles so that old forms have a new vitality.