Songs of Green Pheasant – S/T

It’s hard to describe just what pastoral, ambient acid-folk sounds like, but if you can imagine stark, ambient rock that is part shoegazer with fragments of bedroom folk saturated in reverb, you start to get an idea. The music on Songs of Green Pheasant contains all of these elements and somehow ends up sounding somewhere on the fringes of each.

Songs of Green Pheasant is the solo project of Duncan Sumpner, who is responsible for all of the singing, songwriting, music, and instruments as well as production and recording. These 10 genre-defying tunes were captured on a 4-track at the home of Sumpner in the summer of 2002. But listening to the disc, it’s hard to imagine anything summery. In fact, given the amount of reverb and echo employed and the songs’ sluggish paces and murky ambience, it’s far easier to imagine them being recorded in a strange, damp castle chamber on a cold, wintry night or perhaps while snowbound in an old stone church isolated on a mountainside.

At first, none of the tracks really stand out, as all of them are laggard pieces that exude the same rustic atmospherics with languid, effects-laden acoustic guitar strumming and minor-key piano tinkling. But with a few more attentive spins, the songs distinguish themselves with the addition of various instruments such as hammered dulcimer, swirling electric guitars, and floating synthesizers and by subtly expanding into more elaborate arrangements, although nothing quite as melodic or intricate as a Sufjan Stevens tune. The production – or lack thereof – enhances the experience by providing a certain rawness to the sound as an occasional stray noise finds its way into the mix along with lots of guitar string squeaks and some tape hiss. The vocals and production are similar to Devendra Banhart, and with the mutli-tracked, dreamy harmonies, the vocals seem straight from the 60s folk-rock recordings of Simon and Garfunkel or The Byrds … but only if they were singing in a church choir while on Valium.

“I am Daylights” opens the disc and immediately sets the tone with its eerie, far-away ambience of heavily reverbed guitar and piano with hammered dulcimer adding flavor. “Nightfall (for Boris P.)” continues the journey and ends with some perfectly placed wailing guitar noise. The next two tracks follow suit with more of the same pastoral, shoegazing glaze without the wailing guitar, and it isn’t until the fifth track, “The Wraith of Loving,” that Sumpner actually adds some beats. But not with the conventional use of drums; instead, it sounds more like an off-beat loop of an ultra-slowed-down train locomotive. This actually gives the tune a bit of a bite as more echoey hammered dulcimer is added and the track slowly fades into the background. “Until…” follows and is somewhat more melodic, one of the three songs that actually contains some type of rhythm section, the others being the previously mentioned “The Wraith of Loving” and the disc’s closer “From Here to Somewhere Else” that also includes some deep bass towards the end of it’s seven-minute acid-folk trek. The tracks in between do not give you much to sink your teeth into, but are all born of the same homespun shoegazing-folk, with an airy and somber ambience and Sumpner’s distant vocals.

It’s refreshing to see an artist like Sumpner not genre-hopping or following the latest trends just to find some success, but rather channeling his influences to develop his own sound. While this pastoral, ambient acid-folk is not your typical bedroom singer/songwriter pop, it’s not quite strong enough to stand on its own either. But if you’re looking for something to keep you company on a cold, dark night while you wallow in life’s dark mysteries, this could be for you.