Originally from the small Worcestershire village of Inkberrow, And Also The Trees was formed in 1979 by two sets of brothers, Simon Huw (vocals) and Justin Jones (guitar) and Nick (drums) and Graham Havas (bass), although the latter had been replaced by Steve Burrows by the time they released their debut single, produced by Lol Tolhurst of The Cure, in 1983. The line up remained unchanged until 1997 when Paul Hill took over from Havas on drums while Burrows left in 2007 to be replaced by Ian Jenkins with the relatively recent addition of Emer Brizzolara on keyboards, dulcimer and melodic, that’s how it stands today, although the members are now scattered far and wide, both here and abroad.
I mention all this because the chances are that, despite their extensive back-catalogue, you’ll not have come across them before. They have a solid following in Europe, but, back home they remain very much a cult. However, their influence has not gone unmarked and I find it hard to imagine that they are unknown to either Esben and the Witch or Scott Walker, whose latterday experimental albums carry some strong echoes.
As this might suggest, they’re not on the immediately accessible side of the folk fence. Rather their music is the aural equivalent of those dank, cobweb hung English woods, a sort of folk with heady poetic gothic undertones filtered perhaps through the same blood that ran through the veins of Byron and Coleridge in their more existential moments. Basically, while they draw on the English landscape, they’re more Nick Cave than Nick Drake.
That said, the songs on the new album, inspired by recent tours to hitherto unvisited countries, are, for the most, relatively straightforward in that they’re themed around love, albeit less in the romantic sense and more as an emotion and a force, sometimes warm, sometimes cruel and dark, destructive as well as energising.
With Jones not so much singing as delivering the lyrics in a narcotic semi-spoken style, the album opens with the heady, almost Slavic folk feel of Your Guess, a number about the unfathomable nature of love and the way it can lift you up while still remaining a mystery. Things turn rather more disturbing on the pizzicato bass pulsing Hawksmoor and the Savage, Jones evoking Cave’s tightly coiled menace as he sings of a bleeding piece of meat, a head with a necklace of teeth and the souls of men “growing with the yarrow”, its winter imagery spilling over into the parted love of Winter Sea, clarinet complementing what sounds like (though it’s not credited) a balalaika, which would chime with the references to steppes and Moscow.
The temperature rises for the summery images of good weather and hammocks on the lawn in the keyboards-pulsing Seasons And Storms, a moment in time snapshot of two lovers or perhaps a parent and child caught in the dawn’s light, Adam Sherry from A Dead Forest Index sharing the vocals. Simon trained as a photographer and continues to exhibit, and you can hear the shutter at work as he captures vignettes from life in the lyrics, particularly on the Sleepers as, the music shading from staccato rhythm to fairground waltzer, describing the titular characters entwined beneath the white bed sheets as “joined at the hip joined at the mouth.”
The music may be shrouded in swirling shadows, but the romanticism is unfettered on the metaphorically inclined Bridges, a distant cousin of Scott Walker’s The Girls From The Streets, with its talk of following through the alleyways and of being “in your arms now high in the garrets above the town”, striking a sexual note in the line “my hand inside your head, between your legs.”
Another moment in time is captured on the musically stark The Bells Of Saint Christopher’s, with just keyboard drone ceding to a pulsing tone behind the vocal as, rising from his shared bed, the narrator describes the scene and sounds from the window as the sky hangs “like a ripped curtain above the town.”
Following the six minute Naito-Shinjuku, an otherworldly instrumental named for an historic area of Tokyo penned by Justin Jones and Hill and built around tuned percussion, bass, guitar and vibraphone, we return to the sleepers and the night in the spidery Boden, a renaissance-like guitar line underpinning a lyric about folk-tale like figure that seems ambiguously either protector or predator.
Introduced with Andalucian coloured guitar and clarinet and founded upon Hill’s stuttering drums , the album ends on the intoxicating whirl of The Skeins of Love, about the billowing weave that binds us to one another, the land and the dance, the lyric of which provides the album title and includes almost certainly the only song to feature the word polyhedron.
It’s not an easy or immediate listen, but, like their equally enthralling (and I use the term literally) back-catalogue, like the tendrils, vines and roots of the earth upon which they draw, it wraps itself around your mind and germinates.
Review by: Mike Davies
Released 29 April via Resurrection
Order via Amazon
Spring Tour 2016
27 MAR BIRMINGHAM – THE FLAPPER
29 MAR HAMBURG – KNUST
30 MAR BRUSSELS – L’OS A MOELLE
31 MAR PARIS – PETIT BAIN – SOLD OUT
01 APR FRANKFURT – DAS BETT
14 MAY BOCHUM – ZECHE
15 MAY LEIPZIG – WGT (PERFORMANCE BY BROTHER OF THE TREES)
16 MAY LEIPZIG – WGT