Cubs "Perpetual Light" e.p.
To be fair I could review this collection in one word: perfection, but I guess the discerning reader may need a bit more information presented to them.
Those who are familiar with Cubs will know that they blend acoustic instruments with field recordings, the odd swathe of electronics and blasts of electricity, taking folk music into the future whilst retaining elements of the traditional giving the music a melodic heart and a human soul.
Opening with the gorgeous "Gulliver" the listener is struck with the beauty hidden within the seeming simplicity of the tune, the lovely voice of Cecilia Danell washing your cares away in a moment of rare beauty. On the title track, Bouzouki, Bead Drum and Radiophonics dance together delightfully, whilst "Hummingbird / McAlindens Lament" has a more traditional feel, the vocals again filled with emotion, drifting over the musical landscape below.
Another delightful feature of the album is the use of vocal samples that will make you smile ("I chose the cat") or think ("What is the secret?"), the samples occurring frequently enough to become a feature of the collection whilst remaining sparse enough to surprise you when they appear.
As we move on the band present us with full songs, instrumental duets and solo pieces, the wide range of players and instruments ensuring the album has a freshness that really shines across the whole disc, each piece playing its part in the music creating something timeless and enchanting.
Even playing this now, I am struck by the magical qualities the record possesses, the ability to totally absorb you in its world, as welcome as the first day of spring and as golden as autumn's finest hour. Lovers of beautiful music should dive right in. Perfection.
Well folks, that was one hell of an Irish summer. Featuring actual sunshine and heat to rival anything our flash continental cousins could offer, in coastal areas people were actually seen to get into the sea en masse. Irish people. In Ireland. It was incredible.
The latest offering from Galway’s beloved psych-folk artists Cubs, the ten-track “Perpetual Light” EP (the thirtieth release by Rusted Rail), opens with the voice recording of Sylvia Plath taken from a radio interview, unearthed in 2010 from a new CD issued by The British Library, featuring little-heard recordings of Plath. The recording offers the perfect prelude to the magnificent “Gulliver”, where Plath’s poem – taken from her “Ariel” collection – provides the lyrics for Cecilia Danell to set music to. The resultant track typifies the quiet, dusty and beautifully understated ethos of the band where a beautiful spirit of freedom and enchantment are forever evoked by the collective’s output. “Perpetual Light” is the long-awaited follow-up to the beautiful “Willowfield” E.P. – also issued by Galway-based independent label Rusted Rail – and proved to be one of those wonderful hidden gems of the year. The fact that it did not prove to elevate the status of Cubs to more household names did not matter in the slightest. For any listener who come across the musical output of Cubs will soon realize this special band exist in a parallel world to that of commercialism and success.
One of the main departures on this occasion, is the elevation of Cecilia Danell as songwriter – and singer – more frequently than on the previous “Willowfield” set. For anyone who came across such compositions as the Danell-sung “When Skies Split Open” from the “Willowfield” EP will realize what a special voice it is. In a similar manner to Hidden Highways’ Carol Anne McGowan, a voice so special is worth far more than any amount of studio tinkering or overdub manipulation, as a voice so unique can provide such an impressive arrange of emotion, mood and tones. In fact, Danell is also a well-known artist and it is her artwork which adorns the sleeve (a still from her Super8 film called “You Had Another Skin”, which documented derelict places in rural Sweden).
Once the wonderful Danell/Plath “Gulliver” finishes, we hear Cubs member James Rider – almost in a carefree fashion – state: “Let’s play a song”, after which the instrumental title-track is played out (Rider on bouzouki and Keith Wallace on bead drum), a song born from spontaneity which forms a wonderfully hazy and dreamy atmosphere, culminating in the sound recording of the ebb and flow of waves. The piece forms a fitting bridge to the gorgeous folk lament “Hummingbird/McAlindens Lament”, sung by both Danell and Aaron Hurley. An eerie sense of suspense is also suspended in the song: “There is a car / over the hill / you will go far / just not far enough” which brings to mind the wonderful paintings by Irish painter Martin Gale (Gale’s “At The Landing”, perhaps) where nothing is quite as it seems. The sparsity and texture of the song would make it a perfect accompaniment to a Shane Meadows film (like the Smog, Calexico, M Ward and Gravenhurst aided “Dead Man’s Shoes”, for instance) or, indeed, the films by Ben Wheatley. The overlaying of a fuzzy and distorted sound recording brings to mind such artists as Musette and The Real Tuesday Weld and serves to create the feel of a campfire-lit setting on a starry night.
The sense of suspense is turned up a notch or two in “Stonewalker” where a voice recording – sourced from a mid-90′s sci-fi/supernatural TV show – forms the intro to the song: “I’m mostly scared of the woods...I see a lot of weird stuff...” the strange voice states, creating a “Twin Peaks”-like feel to proceedings. “The First Day of Winter” is arguably the EP’s standout track, a treasure of a song by Cecilia Danell recalling such folk luminaries as Karen Dalton or Vashti Bunyan. Lyrically, the song is also immense and showcases the true talents of Danell:
“And as the wind sweeps east outside
(-Cecilia Danell, “The First Day of Winter”)
Lyrically, the song draws from nature and the changing seasons which provides the perfect subject for the meandering melodica intro (recalling Tindersticks’ wonderful film score for “35 Shots Of Rum” by french film-maker Claire Denis) and a lovingly arranged song (a hand drum kicks in at the halfway point to a wonderfully understated yet powerful effect). Both the vocal delivery and sense of rhythm is reminiscent of the late great Elliott Smith, as the song builds – layer by layer – to its nocturnal, windswept close. The DIY ethos and tactile interlude provided by “The Blessing Of Rest” (similarly played to the short interludes on Calexico’s 1997 debut “Spoke”) brings us to “White Owl”, another song on the EP written, sung and played by Cecilia Danell. There is a wonderfully hushed and dreamlike quality to Danell’s vocals here, echoing the ethereal vocals of Grouper’s Liz Harris. “Don’t let the quietness fool you” sings Danell, as the song feels as though it is a traditional lament handed down by generation to generation from some bygone era and distant past.
The next two tracks, “Shadowbrook” and “From The Wilderness”, are both short instrumental pieces. The former features a voice recording sourced from a 1970′s documentary TV show about the paranormal, hosted by Leonard Nimoy, while the latter (under a minute in length) features the sounds of a storm gathering pace and the sounds of church bells, a recurring motif across the collection. The EP closer is yet another gorgeous folk song written by Danell, “Taken To The Bed”, again reinforcing the recurring imagery of nighttime and sleep. The song itself recalls to mind the poetic and environment-informed subject matter of Colleen’s latest album “The Weighing Of The Heart” where much inspiration is drawn from the immediate surroundings. Imagery of reeds, pines, a jetty, storms and rainbows create a stunningly vibrant and deeply evocative song. The song’s outro again can’t resist the addition of a field recording, although here the recording is pitched perfectly, creating the perfect finale to a stunning EP:
“Ghosts are the surviving emotional memories of people who have died tragically and cannot leave the spot of their passing. They keep reliving their final moments over and over again like a phonograph needle stuck in the final groove. You see, ghosts are aware that they are dead.”
(-sourced from a 1970′s documentary TV show about the paranormal, hosted by Leonard Nimoy)
“It’s a frequent surprise” Danell and Hurley sing on “Hummingbird/McAlindens Lament”, and, like the beautifully mysterious and charming songbook of Cubs, the listener can similarly expect to be frequently enthralled and surprised.
Perpetual Light is the new EP from Galway based six-piece collective Cubs which is made up of a diverse mix of artists from various other bands: Aaron Hurley (Phantom Dog Beneath The Moon), Cecilia Danell, Eddie Keenan (The Driftwood Manor), Scott McLaughlin (Phantom Dog Beneath The Moon), James Rider (United Bible Studies) and Keith Wallace (Loner Deluxe).
The album opens to a Sylvia Plath poem Gulliver which is sung by Cecilia Danell and definitely one of the album highlights. The mood for the song is cleverly set by an unusual and humorous recording of Sylvia Plath being interviewed by the BBC in the early 1960's. Although only the final two sentences are used in the song the rest of that interview is worth digging out. It was released on CD in 2010 by the British Library. In the interview Plath is actually talking about how eccentric the English are and goes on to describe her first visit to an English home. The use of similar material as well as field recordings which include church bells and interviews about ghostly encounters give their music a psychedelic quality, a journey where you drift from the natural sounds of lapping waters accompanied by Aaron Hurley playing a simple Mandolin tune on From The Wilderness to the sound of church bells bringing you closer to habitation where ghosts congregate... for they do not know they are dead.
Despite being six members the EP makes good use of selective sparse arrangements which are no less alluring. There are ten tracks on offer
some of which are short instrumental pieces which are no less deserving of the listener's ear. James Rider's primitive acoustic guitar playing
on Shadowbrook and Perpetual Light are noteworthy as are Aaron Hurley's exchange of acoustic for electric to accompany Cecilia Danell on White Owl.
When the sound does build they create an almost classic 70's folk sound with the use of Bouzouki and Melodica as on The First Day of Winter. Another
stand-out track of the EP is Hummingbird/McAlindens Lament on which Danell and Aaron Hurley prove they have a perfect vocal partnership. It's a delightful
listen from start to finish.
Another release from Galway "boutique" label Rusted Rail, who specialise in a kind of spectral folk music(s). This EP from floating collective Cubs is no
different, combining midnight hour acoustic guitar, mandolin and bouzouki with melodica warmth, whooshing field recordings and audio/voice samples to create
something that suggests strongly the strangeness present around us in our everyday lives. I particularly like the effect of 'Stonewalker' - wind blowing
through grass, a North American voice referring to having seen "a lot of weird stuff", a duo of strident plucked bouzouki and electric guitar zooms, with
some electronic whistling in the background. Lead track 'Gulliver' is another evocative piece, where Aaron Hurley's backwards guitar neatly upturns the
opening pronouncements of none other than Sylvia Plath. The deadpan vocals of Cecilia Danell are also nicely, intriguingly pitched. And specific mention
must go to Scott McLaughlin's superb recordings of bells from Vilnius and Huddersfield. You could well imagine something as unsettling and memorable as
The Wicker Man being put together around these 10 piece...
Cubs is a collective of Galway based and/or born musicians, whose music resides at the point where folk-rock, indie, and avant-garde/experimental meet. Perpetual Light is the follow-up to last year's Willowfield mini-album, and like that work, also features 10 tracks - both songs and instrumentals - based around folk influenced acoustic guitar playing, with occasional snippets of dialogue culled from various pre-existing recordings from films, TV, etc. The main difference on this occasion is a more prominent role for one of it's members.
Cubs are Aaron Hurley and Scott McLaughlin (Phantom Dog Beneath The Moon), Eddie Keenan (The Driftwood Manor), Keith Wallace (Loner Deluxe), and James Rider (United Bible Studies), all of whom are well established on the Irish underground rock and folk-rock scenes - but the most recent recruit, Swedish artist Cecilia Danell, is, in musical terms, unknown. On Willowfield, apart from a duet with Eddie Keenan, she mostly did backing vocals. Perpetual Light, however, sees her step forward as lead vocalist and lyricist on four of the EP's five songs - and writer of two of it's best tracks - and with all due respect to the others contributions, her work emerges as the strongest, and a large reason why the EP succeeds as it does.
Perpetual Light opens with Sylvia Plath's poem 'Gulliver', reimagined as a song for voice and guitar by Danell. The vocal melody she creates for Plath's words, and the deliberately stuttered H's on the "High, High and icily" line, make this one of the EP's highlights, and a wonderful indie-folk track in its own right.
'White Owl', again written by Danell, is a haunting, atmospheric piece. Her hushed vocals and Aaron Hurley's loose, buoyant, electric guitar work, complement and enhance this tale of animals seeking shelter from the prying eyes and the unwelcome attention of the song's titular bird.
The EP closes with 'Taken To The Bed', where the sinister feel of Danell's vocal performance and the ambiguity this brings to her lyrics, make for another strong track. Indeed Danell's sense of melody and atmospherics allows her to hold her own in CUBS and a solo EP from her would be something to look forward to.
The contributions of the other members though should not go unnoticed. The short instrumentals bear repeated listening, particularly the rolling acoustic
guitar arpeggios of James Rider's 'Perpetual Light' and the chiming, minimalist, almost call and response form of Hurley's 'From The Wilderness'. Hurley
also delivers a very fine song in the gently swaying 'Hummingbird', which closes with the cold comfort line "You will go far...just not far enough."
Here's a cute little 3" CD by folk pop types Cubs out on Rusted Rail Records in a hand assembled and stamped card sleeve,
loosely followed on from their last EP 'Willowfield'. 'Perpetual Light' is a collection of 10 songs of folky niceness influenced by old folksters
like Bert Jansch and John Renbourn to more modern musers like Tunng and Bonnie Prince Billy. Cubs weave a tender sound with acoustic instruments like
mandolin, melodica and bouzouki with an interesting take on the folk lady vocals with an almost modern R'n'B delivery, don't quite understand why 10 tracks
would count as an EP but at only 21 minutes long it is quite short but very, very sweet all the same.
Perpetual Light by turns evokes Nick Drake, Cocteau Twins and Mazzy Star, and it's well worth your time.