Ethereal folk soundtracks for imaginary films. Magical, if at times unsettling sounds.
McKowski is the new alter ego of Mark McCausland, one half of the Irish duo The Lost Brothers. Lead single ‘Lake’ takes a scene from the 1961 horror film ‘The Innocents’ as its starting point. McCusland says it is “also mixed with a little bit of Elephant Man carnival atmosphere for good measure.” Creepy fairground music is the first impression certainly. Apparently recorded, “as it was writing itself, stream of consciousness style” it is a good entry into the album’s atmospheric folk soundscapes. ‘Madmen’ features a distant barking dog at the start, as well as little sounds that pop up and disappear before you can identify them. Listen to this on headphones and you will quickly be wondering what sort of world you have dropped into. Is it a bird, is it a ghost?
‘Return Of Pygmy Pony’ features Howe Gelb, and is so slight it barely exists, demanding concentrated listening to its almost Spanish style. Viola and Pedal Steel pop up after a while to give the cinematic feel that flows through the whole album. Think The Third Man meets Segovia. ‘Sartain’ is a Spaghetti Western theme for the Scottish Highlands, or Hank Marvin in the desert. Like all 10 of these instrumentals, it leaves a lot of room to fill in the images to go with the music.
McKowski says of the genesis of this album “For me the best stuff comes from that dance between good and evil, light and dark. It’s a balancing act. This album started off as a small candle burning, the only bit of light in a vast dark cave. I needed to balance out the dark with some light. The spark of music was the seed, and this record is the first branch of the tree that grew from the fire. In the process I accidentally soundtracked my surroundings in real-time and ended up with this creation. I’m not sure exactly how I would describe it, but if my life was a movie, this would be the soundtrack.’’
And it is a fascinating trip into his world. ‘Ode To Sunday’, brings Douglas Adams’s view of Sunday afternoon as “the long dark teatime of the soul” to mind, that feeling of ennui that can reach you about 5pm. ‘Frank’ is led by the strings and is another tune that struggles to raise itself above a whisper. ‘Ask The Dust’ mixes fairground ride music with pedal steel, and ‘Cantina (The Mezcal Waltz)’ takes into a strange Spanish lullaby. ‘One By Buk’ closes with a reading of the poem, ‘The Genius of the Crowd’ by Charles Bukowski. Somehow appropriate to end with a poem that urges us to find ourselves, as this is a distinctive and individual piece of work.
The listing on Bandcamp calls this volume one, so the likelihood is that there is more magic to come from McKowski, which is good news. This won’t be for everyone, but if you like films such as Angelo Badalementi’s ‘Straight Story’ give this a try, he may well be talking your language.