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A Broken Consort - Box of Birch

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Artist: A Broken Consort

Album: Box of Birch

Label: Tompkins Square

Review date: Jun. 18, 2009


A Broken Consort - "The Elder Lie" (Box of Birch)


When terms like ďpastoral psychogeographyĒ are tossed around, even if it is by the folks at The Wire, there are definitely grounds to be suspicious. New age neologisms of such academically esoteric proportions tend to give the music in question more credit than itís due. Most bands that hide behind high concepts do so because they lack experience or a sense of purpose, the root causes of mediocre output due to a lack of emotional investment. But in the case of Richard Skeltonís project A Broken Consort, thereís a lifetime of memories and emotion poured into the literally monumental Box of Birch.

The album first appeared in 2007 as an actual box of birch on Skeltonís own Sustain-Release Private Press. It was ornately and lovingly crafted in memory of his late wife, Louise, combining her artistic output with Skeltonís synergistic compositions. Rereleased this year on a much larger scale by Tompkins Square, the evocative packaging that stood as a memorial to his wife may be lost to more conventional formats, but the music stands as strong as ever.

The result is a many-textured, naturalistic record that goes beyond ambience to strike at the emotional and physical core of his home in Lancashire. This new edition includes ďan exclusive series of artworks which draw on the hidden histories of the English landscape, and their narratives of displacement and loss,Ē creating a new relationship between sound and image that is authentic and completely unbelabored.

Itís less an act of composition and more a careful curating of mood and tone that tells a history of love and loss. Wooden guitar and chamber strings lie at the heart of the shuffle, equal parts Bela Bartok and John Fahey. Itís the rest of the odd sounds that push and pull the structure of each song, though, that begin to flesh out the rest of the record. Orphaned keyboards, metallic fugues, scattered percussion and the delicate rending of metal against metal talk back and forth, helping shape a tonal landscape thatís both recognizable and transient.

Skelton opens his home and his heart and allows whateverís in there to pour out in a form both primal and articulate. Iíve never been to Lancashire, and I havenít experienced loss on the same scale as Skelton. But after some time with Box of Birch, I feel like Iíve got a pretty good handle on where heís coming from.

By Evan Hanlon

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