Album Review: All Is Quiet At The Ancient Theatre by Alison Cotton

I write the vast majority of these reviews during the day, it’s when I’m at my best and generally have the most time. For this album from The Left Outsides’ Alison Cotton, however, the evening seemed the only time that I really could do it. So I’ve finally managed to pack the kids off to bed and here goes.

There is a wonderful eeriness to this album that lends itself to be played in the dark. From its atmosphere it reminds me very much of the Kuro album from a couple of years ago, and which made my ‘essential‘ list in 2016. It has the same incredible depth to it despite the sparseness of the playing. Like that Kuro album there is something deeply spiritual about the whole experience when you listen to it.

But what is perhaps the most remarkable thing about this set of songs is how they are at the same time both powerful and fragile. Taking the opening, title track, as an example, built around a short repeating coda it gradually grows in intensity not because it does so musically but because of the power of repetitive drone which just emerges inside you and expands in your consciousness. At the same time you are aware of the potency of the space within the music… space that you can fill with your own thoughts and feelings. Yet if this is a space it is one that is shifting, a catacomb bedecked with ivy was one vision that I got when listening to this… yet with the walls constantly shifting.

Perhaps this was because the music was feeding me subconscious thoughts of death, and the music here does have something of the gothic about it. Second track, ‘The Last Sense To Leave Us’ gives me the feeling of being cast adrift on a misty sea, the siren voices calling me to divert course and risk ending my life… again the word that comes to mind is potency (which is one I don’t think I’ve ever used in a review before) because there is such an intrinsic strength to this music… although at the same time I really feel the need once again to stress its intricacy, like a delicate sonic lace.

After that ’36 Situations’ feels slightly more sharp and focused, with Cotton’s viola coming to the fore in a manner that is forthright without ever being shrill. This track feels more to me like a maze with its intricate lattice work again providing space, yet within a structure that feels very solid when you push against it… ultimately though it is within the gaps where you want to be, absorbed within the music, using it as a catalyst to take you off on flights of fancy.

Take all that I have said so far, then multiply it a couple of times and you get ‘The Bells of Saint Agnes’. This is a song of such beauty… of such frailty… actually of such vulnerability… that it is both disarming and inviting. The addition of Cotton’s voice here does give the number a more folk-like feel, although there is no way that it could just be located within that genre. The droning viola in the background somehow adds a further sense of depth… a pool of emotion that is catching my tears again and again when I’m listening to this.

Which brings us to the final track, ‘The Tragedy of the Tithe Barn’, which once again just stuns me with the seeming ease with which it is played, and yet it just stops me in my tracks as the viola and bodhrán interchange beautifully to create a melody that is quite simple heartbreaking. Like all the songs here there is something liminal about how the music is played, as if we are on the edge of reality looking in somehow… and that it perhaps what I like about this album most of all, its sense of detachment, of being in the borderlands of consciousness.

There are albums that I like… there are albums that I love (and we use that word a lot in music)… but I have totally fallen IN love with this album. It is made up of a set of five songs that are just so affecting that they become part of you because of their ability to cajole and assimilate. The delicate power that is inherent within them that ensures that they remain within you once the album is over. As I sit here now, however, I don’t think I ever want to switch it off.

‘All Is Quiet At The Ancient Theatre’ is available now from Cardinal Fuzz, here; and Feeding Tube Records in the US here.



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