The fifth solo release for the ex-Cardiacs man is a very English record, but an alternative, hyperreal version of Englishness, a bit like the album cover – a vaguely familiar, mostly imaginary, landscape populated by violet lakes, what look like ostriches and crocus-like flowers in shades so rich it almost hurts the eye. The music follows that trend, shaping folksong, sea shanties and classic songwriting into new and exciting forms. The exception to the Englishness is ‘In Converse’, setting the traveller’s words by Irish playwright JM Synge to a folky arrangement of sighing woodwind, distinctive piano patterns and the most gorgeous duet between Billy Drake and Andrea Parker that feels like oak and ivy entwining.
‘Distant Buzzing’ kicks off the album, brassy and stomping folk-rock that’s located somewhere between the Cardiacs and Robyn Hitchcock, and echoed by the closing track ‘Orlando’. In between, the mood is intentionally archaic, though the title track’s arrangements are a heady mix of folk instrumentation and electronica. ‘A Husk’ is pastoral folk-prog, and ‘The Catford Clown’ has a few dramatic Genesis-like flourishes. ‘The Blind Boy’ sets words by Colly Cobber, the 17th century poet laureate, to a folkpop tune, complete with wheezy harmonium, while the Nelsonic ‘Heart of Oak’ is a powerful sea shanty in which the hurdy gurdy sounds strange and Drake’s excursions into falsetto even stranger. The beautifully-sung ‘Castaway’, with words by Annie Dachinger, an artist from Sark, is a blinding series of relationship metaphors, so indebted to the golden age of songwriting that we might have intercepted a broadcast from Radio Luxembourg in the 1930s.
It’s fantastic in every sense, a work of such imagination you’d like to peak inside Billy's skull and see what weird processes are conjuring up such dramatic visions. Absurd, quirky and rich, rich fun.