Songs of Green Pheasant "Soft Wounds"

Songs Of Green Pheasant, the alias for Sheffield-based singer-songwriter Duncan Sumpner, emerged fully-formed - or as fully-formed as his gauzy, opaque songs would allow - back in 2005, with a self-titled album on FatCat. In the following two years, he released two more equally gorgeous records - the odds'n'sods collection Aerial Days and 2007's Gyllyng Street - before seemingly dropping off the map. Not an earth-shattering story, true: we all have our preferred mystery songwriters, figures who step haltingly into the half-light, hand us a small vial's worth of quartz-like songs, and then disappear, never to be heard from again.

I don't think Sumpner was ever poised for anything like a "breakthrough," but for what it's worth, those three albums have lodged firmly in my consciousness, rewarding repeat listens with their graceful, slow unfurl. In a slightly uncanny turn, weeks before Rusted Rail's announcement of the release of Soft Wounds, I'd been moved to contact Sumpner's former label to ask of his whereabouts. (They didn't know.) But here he is, offering another small collection of songs to the world, his weightless, almost androgynous voice still drifting above the songs, nursed by a cloud of reverb.

"Drifting above" is a recurring theme in Soft Wounds, with Sumpner threading the same lyrics, or minor variations thereof, into a loose narrative. Witness the initial, bird's-eye view of the world that begins "Teenwolf": "Looking down on oak trees / like a pilot." He sings of "old war planes" in "Deaf Sarah," and connects the two themes in "Flesheaters," where our protagonist now looks down "on oak trees / like a war pilot." There are also figure eights traced (though mist on glass) in "Teenwolf" and "Deaf Sarah," while the "sun sinks on graves" in "Mirror" and "Lemon Yellow." The protagonist here is obsessed with reiterating visions, like a damaged soul repeating the same story over again, but from slightly different perspectives, as if drinking the nuance from the diorama.

Sumpner's songwriting is as "haunted" as his lyrics are, with fragile figures for guitar spinning in cycles while violins and trumpets sing out long, lone notes. The patience with which he tends these arrangements reminds slightly of Bark Psychosis's Hex, though the melodies on "Teenwolf" are pure Fleetwood Mac. (The video, recently posted at the Rusted Rail web site, is a whole other thing again, recalling the mythopoeic visions of Stan Brakhage's Dog Star Man.) Throughout Soft Wounds, Sumpner takes his time with his songs, lending them a panoramic flourish, reaching its pinnacle with the eschatological litany at the end of "Flesheaters," which then dissolves into a long instrumental reel of melancholy in "Sad Flowers (Viva Happiness)." It's a beautiful record, perfectly poised and delivered.
dustedmagazine

I concluded my 2007 review of Song of Green Pheasant's Gyllyng Street by suggesting that Duncan Sumpner, the man behind the SOGP moniker, was suitably equipped to continue the proud tradition of Fat Cat Records. Having refined his formula across a trio of full-lengths, I figured Sumpner would be one the label's leading lights for years to come. It was something of a shock to learn - nearly five years later, I hasten to add - that Sumpner had moved on to pastures new. Fat Cat's considerable loss, however, is Rusted Rail's gain, because Sumpner has once again delivered the goods on Soft Wounds, the fourth album of his career.

Sumpner has always tended to favour relatively brief, cohesive records, and Soft Wounds is no exception. Its eight compositions all sound like the work of the same artist, with the same clear goal in mind, at the same point in time. It may be five years since Gyllyng Street, but nothing about Soft Wounds suggests a lengthy or frequently interrupted gestation.

Teenwolf is a truly exquisite melange of deft percussion, distant horns, and subtle guitar textures, and it provides Soft Wounds with a wonderfully warm start. Although it's one of the finest songs I've heard this year, it could be a little too strong to open this record; the impact of the following tracks Self Portrait With a Dog and Deaf Sarah is diminished on early listens by unrealistic hopes for 'more of the same'. Now I'm reasonably well acquainted with Song of Green Pheasant and even I had to re-calibrate my expectations a little; once I had geared myself up for the slower tempo and more instrumental nature of the rest of Soft Wounds, I found I could enjoy it whole lot more.

If Teenwolf is Soft Wounds' standout moment, the nine-minute-plus Flesheaters is undoubtedly its most ambitious. Sumpner demonstrates his impressive compositional talent here, gently teasing the song in subtle new directions in a way that seems almost effortless. In this way, though not sonically, Flesheaters recalls Gyllying Street's sublime centrepiece West Coast Profiling. Few critics choose to comment on Sumpner's vocal abilities, but it's well worth pointing out that the harmonies on this track from 5:01 onwards are really rather beautiful, too.

The final highlight is the dreamy pastoral folk number, Lemon Yellow, which provides Soft Wounds with a satisfyingly memorable climax. Don't be fooled by the understated nature of Sumpner's songcraft or the lack of fanfare that has greeted this January release - Soft Wounds is one of the year's first great albums and it deserves to be heard.
Noripcord

From the category 'albums that need a few spins to click' comes the latest release on Rusted Rail; it is Sheffield's Duncan Sumpner and his fourth album as Songs of Green Pheasant. At first listen it seemed a relatively average bit of indie rock / folk crossover material, but over time the subtleties and quality of these compositions reveal themselves.

The style description above is more or less valid, though. In a number of tracks, acoustic guitar and Sumpner's wispy voice are combined with a steady backing of bass, drums, and piano, lending a light rock touch to the songs. Other tracks are stripped down, relying on an interplay of guitar and accents on trumpet and piano.

This includes two of my favourite tracks, which are even instrumental: "For People" and "Sad Flowers (Viva Happiness)". Both are wonderfully understated melancholic works. Speaking of which, there's a beautiful sadness in "Mirror" as well, and the long "Flesheaters" has its own share of lovely moments.

Soft Wounds is only the latest in a row of releases that cement Rusted Rail's reputation as one of the finest alternative folk labels in Europe at the moment. For me, this is another warmly gentle record to cherish, a gem that comes recommended to all lovers of indie folk, singer/songwriter, and the like.
Evening of Light

This is the first release of the band since 2007, and they pretty worked out this album to perfection. There's a dreamy melancholy involved. The wounds aren't too big, and healing is desired. I really loved it when on the 5th track the singing is really addressing towards the "little one". Elsewhere the mood is withdrawn further from the scene. Beautiful trumpet mood arrangements appear. But other textures by keyboards spaces appear as well, rhythmically (with simple cradle shaking rhythms, by drums, percussion and guitars) we're brought into a dream, the close vocal harmonies keep you into that cloudy affection towards the scene. There's a real band feeling and the atmosphere doesn't leave the room for an album full of moodiness, with plenty of instrumental improvisation.
psychedeilcfolk.com

Beautiful and intriguing album on the Galway-based label from Sheffield's Duncan Sumpner (following a few long players on Fat Cat in the past). There's a flavour of Midlake about these woozy, tripped-out folk songs that's very appealing. For example, the languid Teen wolf or the nostalgic Deaf Sarah. There's also trumpet involved, which we always love.
The Underground of Happiness

After a trilogy of albums out on the label FatCat Records, Duncan went Sumpner shelter in Rusted Rail Records to distribute his new folk-songs with narcolepsy. Soft Wounds , his new album, perfectly suit all listeners wanting a companion audio taff or for a nap. Opting for a cruise worthy of High Llamas and Kings Of Convenience , the UK opts for appeasement with artisanal cured compositions and intoxicating. Waves of psychedelic shapes surround these tracks matt colors, sometimes minimalist, sometimes lush, but in any case much insensitive to modernity and any formatting. The artist from Sheffield back in time by offering pleasantly nostalgic old-fashioned songs, rocked about by the same influences as the seventies titles Fairguson or group Midlake . More than an album built on different songs, Songs Of Green Pheasant conducted a folk soundtrack of spring reflecting the image of places large and bright, pastel shade, away from everything, urbanization, mobile phones and ADSL. The journey of the eight pieces of choice is almost relaxing and purifying. Difficult, early this year to find melancholic melodies as bewitching as Soft Wounds , diffuser neurasthenic unforgettable symphonies ("For People", "Sad Flowers (Viva Happiness)") and delicate prettiness of folk ("Deaf Sarah "," Mirror "," Lemon Yellow "), dreamy as it should. And when Duncan Sumpner decides to mix the two, you get stuck between track anthology of acid-folk and medieval inspirations ("Flesheaters"). Good trip, therefore, beyond time and fashion.
(Translated from French)
http://www.laquenelleculturelle.fr

Duncan Sumpner is a thirty-something teacher from Sheffield, Yorkshire, UK who records under the banner of Songs of Green Pheasant. His first outing since 2007, evoking West Coast, dreampop/folk harmonies, bound to draw comparisons with the likes of Fleet Foxes and Midlake. Arguably Sumpner's exquisite harmonies are as strong - stronger perhaps - than either and have a more instant appeal. Time will tell if this is also an enduring one. "Teen Wolf" is a catchy, euphoric yet laid back mini-classic which transports one back to 1970s West Coast of USA. "Self Portrait With A Dog", which continues the canine theme, is an eerie mantra, while "Deaf Sarah" is lazy, hazy, soft rock of the old school - all rather delicate and quite superb. It is also notable for a key feature of "Soft Wounds" namely the use of brass as a lead instrument. This is further exemplified on "For People", an instrumental which is probably closest in melody and structure to the aforementioned Fleet Foxes. In fact the brass lends "Soft Wounds" a genuinely transatlantic sound, evoking both the Canyon and the colliery. "Flesheaters" is, along with the opening "Teen Wolf", probably the strongest composition and arrangement, again redolent of post-psychedelic, laid-back, cocaine cowboys of yesteryear but with a focus and charm that is quite transcendental and cleansing.'Soft Wounds' is a beautiful and accomplished album made for sunny days and warm evenings outdoors. In fact it's almost too much of a good thing, a bit like a chilled holiday where there is nothing to do but lie on the beach day after day. There's nothing at all wrong with that, it's just that you occasionally yearn for an energetic romp over some rocks or anything that will shake you out of your blissful lethargy. It may be, though, that in his own small way at least, Yorkshire's Sumpner can do for the West Coast revival what Jonathan Wilson did last year and Fleet Foxes before that. Lie back, relax, and ride the vapour trail.
Note to art lovers: The CD is housed in a hand-assembled and had stamped recycled card sleeve featuring artwork by Duncan Sumpner.
Terrascope

First release from Songs Of Green Pheasant since 2007. After three releases on Fat Cat records, Duncan Sumpner returns with another narcoleptic dream folk album on Rusted Rail. To be honest i was a bit surprised when i first read that he had a new album coming out, though "Gyllyng Street" was one of my favorite releases in 2007. "Soft Wounds" has everything i loved in Songs Of Green Pheasant records. Jazzy horns, freak folk interludes and psych folk melodies shuffled with AM radio pop tunes, all perfectly matched together like a midnight summer dream.
Sound Injections

Made by Sheffield-based Duncan Sumpner, this is the 4- and 8-tracked album of your dreams, if you love nothing better than sinking into an aural bed of softly-sung, lo-fi, feathery goodness. It's pop, in the most understated sort of sense. If the B-section of your record shelves contains Bedhead, Beirut, and Belle and Sebastian, you'll want Soft Wounds to do your ears some subtle damage.
Sweet Oblivion

English singer-songwriter Duncan Sumpner, who goes under the stage name Songs of Green Pheasant, has released three albums on FatCat records, which also released albums by Sigur Ros. However for his latest work, Soft Wounds, the Sheffield-based musician has chosen to go with the independent Galway label Rusted Rail. The eight-track album is a gentle, slow, and mellow collection of folk-pop and indie, with the strongest tracks being opener 'Teen Wolf' and closer 'Lemon Yellow'. The sparse, stripped down, instrumentation of 'Teen Wolf', allows the emphasis to be placed on the beguiling vocal harmonies and the song's hint of folk-rock psychedelica, reveals traces of Crosby, Stills, and Nash, and Matthew's Southern Comfort.'Lemon Yellow' finds Sumpner alone on acoustic guitar and this number is distinguished by its sophisticated vocal melody. To these ears the song has traces of Paul McCartney and Syd Barrett, without either aping those artists or being too much in thrall to them. The reference points hint at origins, but the overall effect and achievement of these abovementioned songs are Sumpner's own. 'For People' is a haunting composition, which starts with an eerie piano motif, before giving way to trumpet refrain, creating a peculiarly English and moving reverie. Given this is an album of mellowness and mood, your reaction to it will depend on your own temperament at a given time and when you happen to play it. Laid-back, quiet songs are not going to click with you when you need something energetic. This is one for the quiet night in when you want to relax - bedsit ballads for indie ears.
Galway Advertiser

This CD is immediately bringing to mind the likes of Fleetwood Mac and Crosby, Stills, Nash and Young (and so by default the modern comparison here would have to be Fleet Foxes). Gently-paced and slickly arranged folk pop with totally smooth harmonies usher us into the collection on opener 'Teen Wolf'. This is really relaxing listen, actually. The way the vocal harmonies swell and recede sounds really natural but no doubt is the product of hours of hard work. Even though there's a certain amount of polish on here the casual grooves still give it an informal, unhurried feel. Many of the songs have a doleful, dusky feel to them that's much more understated than any of the aforementioned bands' work (in fact really it's just that first track that's so reminiscent of them), and as we settle into the record the folk influences become more prevalent. These accessible downbeat stylings bring to mind a stripped back Epic45 a little, or even Hood sans the electronic elements. Pleasant, relaxing and melodic songs with the occasional mournful instrumental interlude.
Norman Records

Victime de la récession ou choix motivé par la recherche absolue de liberté artistique ? Alors que le label FatCat avait tendu la main à Ducan Sumpner pour publier trois albums lumineux parus entre 2005 et 2007, le nouvel album de Songs of Green Pheasant paraît dans un format bien plus artisanal (et affublé d'un bien vilain visuel, réalisé par ses soins). S'alimentant toujours aux mêmes sources intarissables d'inspiration (la perte, le manque, l'apitoiement, l'espoir dé?u), l'écriture de Sumpner ne s'est pas altérée : un souffle radieux balaie la contrition de l'auteur pour mieux révéler les fêlures de l'âme. Le chant se permet toujours de tituber entre Nick Drake et Tim Buckley, tandis que l'instrumentation se veut ambitieuse, laissant une large place aux cuivres, au piano et à; un violon équilibriste. Mais là où Nils Frahm et Peter Broderick sont parvenus à sublimer l'artisanat et le dépouillement sur leurs dernières réalisations, les envolées emphatiques de Songs Of Green Pheasant souffrent d'une carence de moyens. Malheureusement, l'enregistrement autarcique sur du matériel domestique peine à rendre grâce à la féérie des mélodies. On rêve que For People gagne une ampleur symphonique, que Sad Flowers (Viva Happiness) soit saisi dans le recueillement crépusculaire. Si ce n'était cette production qui ne rend pas grâce aux richesses harmoniques, Soft Wounds serait un chef d'œuvre intimiste. Il n'en reste pas moins que Songs Of Green Pheasant parvient de nouveau à ériger le spleen en art de vivre.
Autres Directions

Plus qu’un album construit sur différentes chansons, Songs Of Green Pheasant a réalisé une bande son folk de printemps renvoyant l’image de lieux vastes et lumineux, teinte pastel, éloign és de tout, de l’urbanisation, des téléphones portables et de l’ADSL. Le voyage parmi les huit morceaux de choix s’avère relaxant et presque purifiant. Difficile, en ce début d’année, de trouver des mélodies mélancoliques aussi ensorcelantes que sur Soft Wounds, diffuseur de symphonies neurasthéniques inoubliables (« For People », « Sad Flowers (Viva Happiness) ») ainsi que de délicates joliesses folk (« Deaf Sarah », « Mirror », « Lemon Yellow »), rêveuses comme il se doit. Et quand Duncan Sumpner décide de mêler les deux, on obtient des pistes d’anthologie coincées entre de l’acid-folk et des inspirations médiévales (« Flesheaters »). Bon trip, donc, hors du temps et de la mode.
La Quenelle Culturelle


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