Thursday, October 25, 2012

STRAY LIGHT Bearing Feathers

In and around” Manchester-based Stray Light formed in 1997 but until last month I hadn't come across the quartet - David Bennett and Kat Moor on guitars, Ellen Poliakoff on violin and bass and Dan Chadderton on drums - let alone heard any music. That's now changed with fourth album "Bearing Feathers" (self-) released on Doubtful Sound records. The band play a largely instrumental form of post-rock as support slots for Do Make Say Think, Bardo Pond and Stars Of The Lid all suggest. And to add to that list, as musical reference points for this record I’d throw in Picastro and A Hawk And A Hacksaw.

Here, rather than the tight clinical precision you might expect given the post-rock tag, there is a loose, quivering feel more akin to a live single-take recording and possibly betraying each song’s improvised origins. Many of the instrumentals spar twin twitching guitars with funereal violin – see the dipping, fiery chimes of ‘Split The Lark’ or the quick march of ‘Viper’s Buglos’. ‘Left-Handed Hummingbird’ and ‘Avoiding The Pipistrelle’ are constructed more like understated math-rock that slowly builds in layered intensity. Where there are vocals they are subdued, detached and almost out of ear-shot – the cryptic deathly sighing of ‘Sirens’ or the more ominous intoning of ‘The Continuity Of Parks’ which comes across as the dark freak-folk of a Current 93 project.

This twelve track album also includes snatches of radio, spoken lists, Eastern European folk motifs and in ‘Thought Experiment’ a sway and pulse that is almost jazz-like in its ebb and flow. Given the recorded-live-in-one-take feel, such variety takes a few listens to appreciate in its 54 minute, slowly winding journeying. The looser, improvised feel also leads to expectation of unadulterated, full wig-out or of sudden left-turns but Stray Light play a long game with each song slowly uncoiling rather than unleashing surprises. “Bearing Feathers” engages rather than re-arranges the cerebral cortex. I haven’t followed the path Stray Light have taken to get here but they don’t feel like they are tiring yet, rather a band patiently plying their craft. The hand-made gatefold CD sleeve is also worthy of mention: vintage biological illustrations and ink-stamped type on thick brown card.

Stray Light Bearing Feathers [BUY]

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