Autumn has arrived. The wind is up, and early conkers are being dislodged, thudding on the saturated ground. The horse chestnut leaves are just beginning to turn from lime-green to lemon-yellow. Over the lake swallows gather, scooping flies from the surface, gleaning energy for their imminent flight to Africa. There is something romantic about bird migration, something almost miraculous. An against-all-odds trial by sea and land, it symbolises escape, and the victory of the underdog.
The Music and Migration series seeks to capture the fleeting magic of migration in song. That it has now reached its third instalment is a testament to the quality of material its subject inspires. You might think that it would be aimed squarely at the nerdy ornithologist/beardy folk fanatic crossover market. But the appeal is much wider than that. The collection covers field recordings, twiddly electronica and modern acoustic pastoralism.
The album kicks off with electronic duo ISAN’s bleepy but melodic Kirkeskov, which grows into something reminiscent of a contemporary version of the Beach Boys’ W. Woodpecker Suite – itself a track that would not be out of place here. The first vocal piece is Bird Score by Colleen, an artist perfectly suited to writing about migration, drawing as she does on influences from Europe and Africa, and using them to create lucid vignettes that deal with travel, home and a dreamlike displacement. Here she delivers a beautifully self-contained miniature, in which her multi-tracked vocals recall the swelling voices of birds.
Oliver Cherer, better-known for his Dollboy project, delivers Croham Hurst, a haunting modern folk song that transforms a Croydon country park into something much more intriguing. Psychedelic man of mystery Mark Fry gives us a gentle, almost jazzy meditation, I Can Hear the Birds, which leads into Wheatfields, a dulcimer-led instrumental by Memory Games redolent of the pagan history of the harvest.
The Icelandic sisters Pascal Pinon contribute Fuglar, sounding something like an endearingly lo-fi Björk. Sharron Kraus’s Birds of the Air is a circling invocation that wouldn’t sound out of place on her wonderful recent record Pilgrim Chants and Pastoral Trails, and Gareth Dickson channels his inner Nick Drake with Amber Sky.
Lisa Knapp has been making waves with the recent release of her second album, and shows here that she is a magnificent interpreter of song with a spare, startling rendering of Lal Waterson’s classic Fine Horseman. The dreamlike ambiguity of the narrative is made for her remarkably clear voice. This may just be the best version of this great song since Anne Briggs. It is followed by Chris Watson’s Namaqua Moves, a mini-symphony of recorded frog, bird and insect song, punctuated by eruptive wing beats. Watson has been doing this sort of thing for years, and is the doyen of the field recording community. No-one can quite match the grace, simplicity and clarity of his recordings or the way in which the smallest of tweaks can make an entire passage sing. These two final pieces make for a strange and wonderful end to an unusual but highly effective release, well-conceived and perfectly timed.
Review by: Thomas Blake
Music & Migration III is released on September 8th via Second Language
Order it here