Us and Them - On Shipless Ocean

by Bill Golembeski Rating:9 Release Date:2018-06-15
Us and Them - On Shipless Ocean
Us and Them - On Shipless Ocean

In for a penny, in for a pound.

This one throws its one long punch. And it’s an emotional jab that’s filled with deep beauty, patient melodies, and acid folk mysticism.

By the way, this music has nothing to do with Pink Floyd, except the entire album has the same lovely languid pace as the band’s namesake tune from Dark Side of the Moon. When time is stretched, sometimes, magic manages to slip between the moments. And this record is filled with magic.

The first few songs are beauty personified in song. “The Trees and the Sky Above” unfolds slowly, guitar and voice in harmony, and builds with the help of backing keyboards. Yes, it is pretty; yes, it is earnest; and yes, it may even be precious; but it is, ultimately as great as any of those tunes from the heyday of Britain’s folk movement. The band list their favorites as Sandy Denny, Donovan, Bert Jansch, Vashti Bunyan, Duncan Browne (presumably his wonderful Give Me Take You album), and Pentangle.

Need I say more?

Of course, I do: Dando Shaft, Bridget St John, Trees, Marc Brierley, Dulcimer, Mr Fox, Bread, Love and Dreams, Tudor Lodge, Heron, Sweden’s lovely Turid, Germany’s Broselmaschine, and (playing my ace favorite), Chris Simpson and his Magna Carta, especially their brilliant album Seasons, with Glen Stuart’s voice soaring over the songs.

“From the Corner of My Eye” is, again, beauty brushed by magic. Keyboards accent the tune.  Britt Ronnholm’s vocals, double-tracked, create drama. Anders Hakanson patiently colors the song with guitar. The opening three song prologue continues with “A New Life.” Again, there’s drama, beauty, quiet space, and a lush chorus as the guitar frames the song. The ending, though, opens a portal to a sonic vista of electronic burbles of buzzes and beeps.

This ushers in the paradigm shift which, indeed, moves the penny to the pound. “Lady Rachel” (yes, the very song from Kevin Ayres’s brilliant 1969 Harvest record Joy of a Toy) is stretched to epic proportions. No prisoners are taken here. Mellotron, moog, acoustic and electric guitars, mixed percussion, and once again, Britt Ronnholm’s dreamy vocals build a quiet tension that was only hinted at during the preceding songs. This is a trip inside dear Lady Rachel that exposes her soul to the universe. The moog solo evokes those old progressive rock days. Sound bends with color. This is a wonderful ten-minute ride into space inhabited by both cosmic nebulae and the human heart.

But then it’s back to Vashti Bunyan fairly succinct acid folk, with “Changes and Choices” and “People Like Us.” But, who’s complaining? What with acoustic guitars, double tracked harmonized vocals, and a bit of flute. “Time” has an eerie bit of electronic sound. This music evokes late autumn with first leaves floating in the geese honking skies. Great vocal melodies fuse with colorful noises, sundry keyboards, flutes, and guitar.

Then “Extract from the 17th of November” is a short bit of electronic sonic play that begs for an evening encore. It’s a strange but welcome detour.

It’s just an idea, but fans of Anthony Phillips and that early Genesis pastoral sound will certainly enjoy this record. Listen to the absolutely beautiful (and serene Hackett style) electric guitar on “Tail,” which is another extended mellotron-drenched tune (with flute!) that ventures into prog territory. What a lovely melody.

Now, it’s just another idea, but this record shouldn’t be limited to the acid folk brigade. This music is a time machine back to a time when the lovely beauty of Sandy Denny’s music shared equal time and space with Zeppelin’s hard rocking “Black Dog.” In fact, that’s the fruit tree of “Battle of Evermore.” Heavy music simply mirrored a universe that was equal part beauty and chaos, major and minor keys, poetry and slang, just like the words of the prophet that are scribbled on Paul Simon’s subway walls.

The album ends as it began; the circle is complete with two songs, “She Is Not Me” and “We Are Not Alone,” as guitars, dreamy vocals, and lovely melodies reflect the beauty of the river’s brisk current, yet understand the dark depths of deep water.  

Ultimately, this is quietly vivid music that weighs heavily like the seasons; it’s music that reflects memories of the past; it’s big and cosmic, yet it is music that always manages to land lightly with the simplicity of a few beautiful notes, pound notes, I suppose, but pound notes that are very much worth the price of every patient penny.

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