Wanderings in a musical landscape.
The Low Drift is a musical collaboration between Emma Thorpe, Matt Hill, and Huw Costin, with guidance from psychogeographers Jane Samuels and Morag Rose, which through song explores landscape and folk memory. It’s a notion that’s familiar in some form to anyone who has ever been a rambler, passing through a landscape is always about more than just the obvious natural beauty or urban interest (or lack thereof), that bump in a field is the remains of a medieval village, that gouged out dip is the quarry which provided the nearby town with its stone, this lightly worn path was once a packhorse route significant to trade and before that a Roman road and before that the route that forgotten thousands trod to the barrows on the top of the next hill. Jane Austen stood on this bridge, bored out of her mind by parochial country cousins. And the scars on that exposed rock is where the home guard practiced rifle fire, quaking in their boots and hoping they wouldn’t have to do it for real. Landscape has been shaped and reshaped by people and the most natural spot in the country has been marked forever by these interactions. It’s this multi-layering of geography, sensory impressions and interactions with the imagined ghosts of the past that the album aims to capture in a further layering of sound.
This goal is laid out at its most clearest on ‘A Gift of Unknown Things‘ which opens over finger picked guitar with “there’s a barbed wire fence deep inside the woods / no-one knows why or what’s on the other side” and which continues with other examples of mysterious locations and the strange feelings they invoke finally breaking off with a spoken recounting of the mythology of the British Isles from the well known to the obscure which are linked through the thought that “these islands are haunted by more than ghosts / the old chalk figures and standing stones“. A specific connection is made on ‘Bleaklow‘ which, dreamlike, scours the exposed peak encountering cracks of time – the 20th century pylons stand out of the mist like images from ‘The Changes‘, whilst the crashed skeleton of a B29 Superfortress slowly decays as ghostly Romans continue their spectral manoeuvres all on a windswept landscape that could stand in for the moors around Wuthering Heights. There are more hints of that Seventies TV-folk drama on the album opener ‘Deadwood‘ which wanders ley line connections, and underscores it with a synthesized flute line which ties the song to half remembered childhood dramas like ‘The Tomorrow People‘ and ‘Children of the Stones‘. Half remembered, of course, if one is old enough.
All these guided musings through folksong forms lightly touched with electronica and spoken word come to a culmination with the instrumental ‘Monyash‘ which with fadings in and out and a hypnotic reverb heavy main guitar riff evoke again an English mysterious landscape with deep roots and, if one knows it, perhaps a glimpse at the hidden rites of neary Arbor Low. And it works as a piece of travel in thought – if one knows the village then it makes mental connections and if one does not then in the context of the album it offers a new place for the mind to travel to and contemplate.
‘The Low Drift‘ is successful as a short collection of folk inspired pieces of music, the extra layer of a thought provoking theme stitching the music together only adds to this. The musical partnership is one that could easily have generated another two or three songs without the album out staying its welcome.