There aren’t too many things that get me excited these days, but two events that do really exercise me are finding a great new walk… and hearing some fantastic new music… this week the memory of one, and hearing another strangely coincided for me in a way that also linked them together.
This week I was reminded of one of my favourite walks which took me from Hadfield in Lancashire, over the Pennines and down to Edale in Yorkshire… the route took me along some disused railway before peeling off up into the hills, essentially doing the first stage of the Pennine way in reverse… over Bleaklow Head, Snake Pass, Mill Hill and Kinder Low (where the mass trespasses took place in 1932, which opened the countryside up for ordinary people) before descending to Edale for pie, peas and a pint… it is the sort of day which takes in endless amounts of bleak natural beauty of as well a landscape that is pocketed but human history… and is just the sort of journey across Northern England which inspires the work of Craven Faults… the anonymous musician behind the analogue electronics, whose new album arrived in my inbox this week.
As regular readers will know, Craven Faults’ music has been on regular rotation for me for years now, starting with the Lowfield Works trilogy, which I wrote about (here) in 2019… this was followed by the first full-length album, Erratics and Unconformities, in early 2020… and a number of other releases in the interim. But it’s the arrival of the second full-length album, Standers, that has got me particularly excited this week…
At the risk of repeating myself I just really get the way that each track is accompanied by some slightly oblique notes placing the music in a place and/ or time… sometimes with some other cultural/ social artefacts that are inspiring the track… you get to see the musician’s connection with his environment… but in a manner that is suggestive rather than assertive… leaving the listener to decide where they want to go… but, for me, inspiring the listener to immerse themselves into both the music and their surroundings… its the sort of introspection that I find both stimulating and relaxing… which is why I listen to Craven Faults so much… and I can already tell that this album is going to be no exception…
So, after that somewhat meandering beginning let’s get on with the album, which stretches itself out to just over an hour, by hearing from the artist themselves about what to expect from their music, and this set in particular:
Meticulously curated, each release moves the Craven Faults story forward. Each one a self-contained analogue electronic journey across northern Britain, viewed through the lens of a century in popular music. Studios, venues and movements. Technology and ingenuity. Vibrations. Lines drawn to connect those moments of inspiration.
On Standers, there’s a sonic shift. A new palette to paint from and further refinement of the craft. We’re no longer exclusively travelling overland. Familiar landscapes are viewed from a different perspective. There’s a growing obsession in how this island came to look the way it does, and how its ancient and modern history affects its current population. Landscapes shaped by the elements, and then by countless conquerors and settlers. Livestock and machinery. Money, religion and politics.
…a heady brew before the music even starts, but it is clear to me from the outset that this is a step forward… maybe it is the relative freshness of the sounds to me… but it feels like there is a new intensity to this, beginning with ‘Hurrocstanes’… which Craven Faults describes as…
We begin at the boundary. The highest point. On a clear day you can see all the way to the east coast. The heavy industry that’s grown up around the mouth of the river, stands out in this ancient landscape. We’ve seen it change. Subtle shifts to the untrained eye, but with seismic consequences. With all this laid out in front of you, it’s impossible not to be moved. We’ve been stood here for 800 years, so it takes a little time to build up momentum. It’s heavy work. The unanswered question once again echoes through the air. Originally composed in 1908, revised in the 1930s, but not performed until 1946.
… it begins with a pulse…an oscillation… electronic… human-made… but underneath there is something more organic… the warmth that analogue electronics can deliver… the first few minutes re-establishing the above-cited philosophy… backing up the words with the sounds… a sort of ineffable connection between that part of ourselves which turns experience into emotion with something quite earth-bound and fundamental… I fear that I’m veering into the realm of the pretentious here but I really just want to try and relate the experience… already eight minutes in and it still feels like the track is building… getting more intense as it burrows its way into you brain… not so much levels than a constant sonic construction that feels like and Escher painting… giving out pulses of sound as you get to the next mindful checkpoint… you don’t really want it to end because you are so immersed in it…. and are quickly into the smooth beauty of ‘Severals’… a relatively short track described thus…
We head due west a short way. From the viaduct you can see the scenery changes. Softer lines where the sandstone gave less resistance to the rivers of ice. An experiment. We float downstream from here. 1966.
This feels more immediate… there is a certain haste in my mind… a change of pace which I’m not sure has been there in the past as different dimensions are explored… there have been shorter pieces before, but those have felt more like fragments of a greater whole.. this doesn’t feel like that, but in the context of this music feels all too quickly to be over. However, you immediately get the feeling that ‘Meers & Hushes’ is going to take you somewhere else altogether:
There’s no place like home. We ascend through the clouds and we’re travelling above the weather. A moment of calm. The scars of early industry are visible where the clouds break. Where a thousand strong pairs of hands and ingenious engineering methods once removed tonnes of lead from the ground, it now lays silent. Open to the elements. Nature is doing its best to cover our tracks. You have to know where to look. Fours and threes. The scenery changes with the weather. Château d’Hérouville, 1976.
…this track gets into you in a very different place to the other two with it’s haunting backdrop and mechanical sifting… even without the description you can feel the influence of the industrial past here… but it’s not the modernity of Kraftwerk, or the massive steel pounding of Sabbath… rather it’s something more primitive… the more localised working like those you find dotted around the North… the crucible of modern industry… the link between the enclosures and Fordism… but like the landscape… this track changes… it loses it’s harshness and there’s a softer more natural sound takes over as the ground is reclaimed by nature… a feeling that somehow gives hope… as second movement which somehow gives inner peace… before emerging into the electronic riff of ‘Sun Vein Strings’:
An hour or so north we happen upon a rich seam. Fiercely disputed. A scandal. Untold riches on one side. Bankruptcy and imprisonment on the other. A case study in how the land was divided, and how this legacy has been passed down through generations. History repeats. Bell Labs, 1974 – 1976 and the memory of an LP bought in 1980 but not revisited in years.
…rather than writing straight away, because it’s twenty minutes long and I can relax with it, the word that just keeps jumping into my mind in ‘mesmerising’… I used to work with a philosopher… who was also from the North… whose favourite phrase was… “we’ are analogue beings in a digital world”… something which has come to mind here… the analogue electronics here feel like some sort of mediation… a gateway that enable the lines of connection that Craven Faults talk about in their introduction to this album… and it is this track in particular where I feel that this is enabled the most… there is a cadence here which just feels so well placed to join the mental dots to create a picture in my mind which is multi-dimensional… something electronic, yet not quite digital… something that retains a natural element within a medium that could be regarded as artifice. I feel that this experience will be all the more so when I get a vinyl copy of this album… it’s a track that will take up a single side, and one that I may well play as a standalone on occasion… like the rest of this set, it’s just stunning.
Which takes me on to ‘Idols & Altars’:
Retracing our route, sometimes a borrowed piano is inspiration enough. It’s walked the same paths in a different life. Eloquent and graceful. Many left their mark here, and an obscure Roman goddess protects these waters.
This is the sort of track that I can imagine being played in a large natural cavern… there’s something languid about it… but there is also a beautiful melody that gives the track something of a timeless quality… as the title and description suggests, there may be something spiritual to take from this, for those who want to… spirituality is, for me, in the gift of those who experience it… so however you want to describe it this number does exemplify how deeply this music can go if you want to let it… and this one is moving me to tears… certainly one of the affective tracks of the year for me so far… which takes us to the final leg of this epic journey… ‘Odda Delf’:
We wind our way east for the home leg. The Norse influence is evident here. It’s in the dialect and the place names. It’s in the movement of livestock for seasonal grazing. United Western Recorders 1970 and Britannia Row 1982 via the city on the other side of the Pennines. An approximation of the human voice – a fitting end.
This has been out for a few weeks now, so I’m much more familiar with it than the rest of the album… which, given how it has been gradually growing in my head, is a very good sign… this has already taken it’s place along with the other Craven Faults works for me. Hearing it in context somehow gives it more of a jaunty feel… it seems more alive now, as if hearing it in isolation was only part of the experience… the description says that it is a fitting end… and indeed it is… this feels like the perfect way to send us back into the world again… maybe its the greater familiarity… but it sounds a bit more crisp and proximate than the rest of the album… either way it represents a fine end to a wonderful seventy minutes of music which has cemented Craven Faults’ place as one of my favourite artists.
Even at this early stage it is clear to me that my excitement at hearing about this new release is well placed. It will certainly enthuse those who have already discovered Craven Faults, and I am pretty confident that it will bring new people on board too… I very much look forward to listening to it when I am out and about on my own walks… making my own connections, in a manner that this music is only too happy to facilitate.
‘Standings’ is released by The Leaf Label, and available to order in various forms of vinyl, CD and download here.
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