The Left Outsides: There is a Place
Cardinal Fuzz – 20 October 2017
The Left Outsides are Mark Nicholas and Alison Cotton (Eighteenth Day of May, Trimdon Grange Explosion), a husband-and-wife duo based in London, and they’re no strangers to these pages – their album The Shape Of Things To Come was reviewed here in 2015. For some reason, they’d remained outside my radar though, and I’m now glad to belatedly make their acquaintance through their latest offering, There Is A Place, which at 29 minutes is probably best described as a mini-album. Their music’s hard to define, but their Bandcamp page gives a pretty accurate portrait in stating that their “atmospheric, hypnotic songs echo Nico’s icy European folk, pastoral psychedelia and chilly English fields at dawn”. These are solid and apposite reference points, sure, but only part of the story, for I also hear alongside them a liberal influence of English underground/psych from circa 1968-70, shall we say early King Crimson, Renaissance, even the experimental Canterbury bands. Not that The Left Outsides actually sound like any of those, but the correspondence is probably more in the realm of their expansive experimental and sensually meditative sensibility.
There Is A Place is an aptly titled set, for each of its eight tracks seems to inhabit a specific place, albeit without necessarily embodying a geographical entity. These may all be the same place – according to the Bandcamp note, the album “takes its inspiration from the forest”, including as it does reworkings of music the band wrote and performed for Gus Alvarez’s film Stand And Deliver. (“In a woodland clearing lies the body of a young woman. A sharp intake of breath – she is alive. What happened last night? Into the woods she searches for answers”…) Well, I certainly feel the spirit of the forest in the album’s atmospheric prelude Cry Of The Hunter, a brooding tone-poem evoking the drifting patterns and ambiences of a glacial forest (like Sibelius’ Tapiola perhaps). The ensuing One Step At A Time plods its measured, stately pace along Velvets’ (Heroin) lines, with shifting fuzz-guitar slow-drag backdrop and Mark’s out-of-focus drugged whispery vocal rendering the lyric nigh impenetrable. The languid pace continues through Into The Deep, a maddeningly brief miniature voiced by Alison to a lush sonic tapestry.
The album’s centrepiece, Time Makes A Fool Of Us All, is a Gothic-cinematic excursion for the ears and mind that’s both closely focused and dream-like, with the duo’s pure, keening, interweaving vocalises set into relief against shimmering, biting guitar tones, drones, ominous drumbeats and subliminal wave-sound patterns and occasional static. Under Noonday Sun, in complete contrast, is structured perfection – a delectable, authentic, breezy sixties-psych-pop number with ringing, chiming guitars above which soars Alison’s voice; noonday sun, indeed, and all hatched, matched and dispatched in 2 minutes 20 seconds! The House Of The Stone Bell is a haunting, if mournful, clear-textured and melody-rich folk ballad, which (if I hear aright) incidentally provides the source for the album’s title. Civil War Lament is the most orthodox of the album’s tracks, a straightforward (though inspired and well-realised) cover of a song from the eponymous 1991 Jack Frost album (a side-project of The Go-Betweens’ Grant McLennan and The Church’s Steve Kilbey). The final track here, The Creeping Fog, shudders and glistens with contrasting textures from jingling bells to ornate see-sawing drones, at times mirroring Cry Of The Hunter but in its later stages introducing a shuffling heartbeat rhythm that mysteriously comes and goes before Alison intones a poem of dawn and transformation. And then it’s all gone – and we’re left “in a place” and becalmed. From which the only exit seems to be the reset/replay switch.
There Is A Place is a really clever achievement. Virtually every track sounds different, yet together they form a sequence of enviable, unexpected and yet almost disembodied unity. Am I making sense? Probably not – for you really have got to get immersed in The Left Outsides’ music. It’s a truly sumptuous listening experience, totally engrossing from the first note, and each separate track refuses to let your ears go; there are no yawning prog longueurs here (no track exceeds six minutes). I’m still puzzling over the name The Left Outsides though – is it that the duo feel destined to be left outside the radar? That would indeed be entirely unfair.
Watch the three accompanying films by Amy Cutler in collaboration with The Left Outsides:
There is a Place it out now on Digital/CD. Available via Bandcamp – https://theleftoutsides.bandcamp.com/album/there-is-a-place
Vinyl via Cardinal Fuzz – Sold Out
Photo Credit: Andy Martin