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!
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.
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.
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.
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
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.
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.