The Big Eyes Family Players "Donkeysongs"

Not heard much from The Big Eyes Family Players recently and their brand of gentle, absorbing music. 'Donkeysongs' changes all that with a sweet 8 tracker on Irish imprint Rusted Rail. Beginning with 'Snowflake Runt', a tentative Bluegrass-esque musing underpinned with a melancholy reedy keyboard and shuffling percussion that's as disorientating as it is beautiful. It does indeed start to sound like a polyphonic mess, like many tunes playing at once, building gradually, barely keeping time but boy, once it grabs you and yanks you into its swirling universe of pattering tribal folk and subtle psychedelia, you're hooked. It's their sparing use of the human voice as an added instrument that gives these songs such an otherworldly vibe. 'Lavinia' is a little like Jack Rose with little analogue synth yawns and quiet voice intonations. 'Donkeys Disturbed By A Meteor Shower' is quite simply gorgeous, sideways experimental folk with real soul and a delicious homemade feel. 'Clunk Orm' is an eccentric piano piece accentuated with electronic mumbles, tumbling along like a drunken ball of playfighting mice. That's all i've time for, there's another 4 tracks of splendid pan European folk spanning Raga, Balkan, Parisian and traditional styles, embellished with goodness knows whatever comes to hand to create probably the best thing i've heard so far his first week of 2008 apart from the Animal collective album which is a fucking high benchmark, believe me!! Utterly wonderful!
Norman Records

I seem to remember hearing Big Eyes for the first time about 9 years ago courtesy of Mr Peel and being immediately attracted to their gentle but strange psychedelic world folk which seemed to have a sound all of it's own, fell in love with that first record 'Big Eyes Songs'. That initial first flush-of-love has not diminished over time and through a change of name, (albeit slight), some incredible collaborations both in the studio and live with the likes of Rachel Grimes, James Yorkston, Alan Sparhawk and Jeremy Barnes to name but a few and a series of slight but disturbingly beautiful records, I've always relished the thought of any new release from them.
'Donkey Songs' see's the Big Eyes Family Players core members of James Green, David A Jaycock and Chris Boyd back to the psychedelic chamber music that first got my attention in 2000 and is their first for the rather interesting Irish 'Rusted Rail' label. A heady mix of guitars, harmonium, violins, drums, harp, kazoo, (yes, I did say kazoo and it actually works for a change), piano, recorder, water-bird-whistle organs and banjos mixed with loops all with slightly skewed time signatures could spell a recipe for disaster but as usual in their capable hands they have once again produced a thing of unsettling beauty.
The opener 'Snowflake Runt' starts as an almost stoner bluegrass meandering with lazy drums and reed organ building up with other instruments/ subtle vocals slowly being added and such an apparent laissez-faire approach to time keeping that would have had my old music teacher spitting blood. This is however is but an aural illusion designed to suck you in to a disorientating, beautiful other-worldly universe. It's as if Doug McCombs and John Herndon have been visiting them at night whispering in their folky ears.
This tinkering with rhythms and styles is a theme repeated throughout the rest of the 8 tracks though after the beauty of 'Lavania' and the absorbing 'Donkeys disturbed by a meteor shower' there comes the piano based piece 'Clunk Orm' nearly losing me despite my love of piano but pulling me back on repeated listens. The Big Eyed boys then drift off to the Eastern European feel of 'The Orange Miller' and 'Yellow Bird March', tracks 5 and 6, with dissonant violins and piano/acoustic guitar, the latter slowing things down to a ghostly lament. Both of these songs would feel right at home in the quieter moments of a Kusturica film. Quite beautiful. This is followed by 'Leave your memories in the Past' a piano led wander that lives up to its name, reverb drenched echoes of another time and place which works incredibly well..and once again I can imagine being used by some canny filmmaker aiming to unsettle.
The final leg of this little journey is however a little too uncomfortable with 'An improvised Drowning' but it does at least live up to it's name...improvised?..most definitely..drowning? ..took me a while to cough the brackish water from my lungs. There are instructions to (PLAY LOUD) under this track but I would warn against it as for me it conjured up images of members of a university quartet trying to do something avant-garde and in the main sounding like a bag of hammers. I'm being unnecessarily cruel I'm sure. It is mercifully short and knowing these guys to be consummate musicians, no doubt intentionally tongue in cheek.
Despite my personal feelings toward the final track, this is a little gem of an EP and has enough strange quirky, innovative use of sounds/loops and acoustic instruments to make it stand out from other similar fare. Highly recommended.
[SIC] Magazine

You may remember these folks from their earlier incarnation - as, simply, Big Eyes - from the earlier part of this decade. As Rusted Rail's website explains, the intent back then was to create classical music without actually possessing the knowhow seemingly required to play it. This back story is, however, completely irrelevant to the current release, as Donkeysongs is instead a stunning work of atmospheric and somewhat unconventional folk.

The reason you'll come to love this album is that it is so much more than your average experimental folk endeavour. Employing a combination of acoustic guitar led instrumentals and abstract atmospheric pieces, The Big Eyes Family Players conjure up images of vivid rural landscapes under red night skies - perhaps as seen through a donkey's eyes. The record is melodic but not overtly so, with an attention to compositional detail rarely seen on CDR releases. Take the stunning mystique of "The Orange Miller," which sounds like the lament of a remote ghost town. Or mournful "Donkeys Disturbed By a Meteor Shower," whose brilliant guitar/banjo melody is accentuated by its eerie bed of percussion.

Of course, the guitar-heavy compositions consume a lot of my attention because their relative straightforwardness makes them more overtly memorable, but in truth Donkeysongs also offers several abstract pieces. "Clunk Orm," for example, is a brilliantly shimmering piano piece that employs reverse sampling to mysterious effect, and chilling "An Improvised Drowning" closes the record on a startlingly downtrodden note. These tracks add depth to an album that is uncannily mysterious and atmospheric. Taken together, Donkeysongs is a marvellously idiosyncratic journey that's worth taking.
[Comes in a beautifully lino-printed sleeve with paper insert.]

Sheffield's finest purveyors of avant-folk chamber music return with their second album under their current moniker (the sixth since they first started trading their wares as Big Eyes). Whilst their last release was collaboration-tastic, roping in alt-folk luminaries like Jeremy Barnes (A Hawk and A Hacksaw) and James Yorkston, this CD is the work of the stripped down trio of (Big Eyes founder) James Green, David A Jaycock and Chris Boyd. In spite of the compact make up of the group, however, the swirling interplay and overlay of many tracks makes for a dense, psychedelic listening experience. And I'm damned if I can pin the bastard down. Tracks like 'Yellow Bird March' which on one listen I'll dismiss as hopelessly funereal, will suddenly, once revisited develop a powerful and charming internal logic. (Closing track, 'An Improvised Drowning', however, stubbornly remains about as uncomfortable a listening experience as the title suggests.) It's an album built on shifting sands, where musical themes take hold then drift into the distance, and a single sound can transform the feel of an entire song. It all kicks off in great style with 'Snowflake Runt', which sounds like Tortoise let loose in a primary school's music room and has an ending so abrupt I leapt up to check the CD hadn't broken. This is quickly followed by the chilling beauty of 'Lavinia' and the breathtaking, intricate rural idyll of virtual title track 'Donkeys Disturbed by a Meteor Shower'. This outstanding opening isn't quite sustained, though. 'Clunk Orm' makes for a highly diverting but mildly disturbing centrepiece, creating a mournful feeling that the second half can't quite shake, in spite of further moments of loveliness scattered throughout. Nonetheless, there is a strange musical magic running through these thirty minutes, which deserves your attention. Open your ears.
Sandman Magazine

The Big Eyes Family Players, to put it bluntly, manage to make bluegrass fresh by using loops and a liberal dose of atmosphere on "Donkey Songs." They do it well, too. The opening number, "Snowflake runt" is a summer day meltdown nearly obliterating the idea of a time signature with its shuffling layers; a perfect opener for a semi-morose tangle of strings, keys and other instrumentation. Throughout the recording, BEFP repeatedly tinker with rhythm, often underpinning their beautifully melancholic ballads with meandering percussive elements which lend themselves to something more akin to the avant garde than anything associated with traditional folk. However, they do their experimentation with one eye focused there while the other is fixated on melodic and more traditional concerns. Makes what I call 'finely cockeyed' music where walls melt away and time dissociates. Wonderful, really. 8/10
Foxy Digitalis

Big Eyes Family Players were formerly known as Big Eyes and previously released four albums, this new collection comes on the Irish-based Rusted Rail label in a screen printed sleeve featuring a lino cut from the bands James Green. Their sound is very much based in the more improv side of things now with references to the meandering sounds of the Rachels meets the slightly more avant-folk sounds of bands like the No Neck Blues Band: elements of eastern folk meets avant-garde neo-classical with lots of odd acoustic sounds swirling around in the mix.
Road Records

Another gorgeous collection of intimate chamber-folk instrumentals from Big Eyes Family Players (formerly Big Eyes), this time comprising of James Green, David A. Jaycock and Chris Boyd. Instruments used include harp, violin, guitar, harmonium, percussion, banjo, piano, organ, harmonica, drums and occasional loops. Packaged in a handmade sleeve with lino cut by James Green.
Boa Melody Bar