littlebow – The Edge Blown Aerophone

littlebow - The Edge Blown Aerophone

Whilst this new duo-led collaboration between Keiron Phelan (State River Widening, Phelan Sheppard, Smile Down Upon Us) and Katie English (Isnaj Dui, The Owl Service) holds an ostensibly restrictive and conceptual remit akin to other releases on the Second Language label, it’s far from being an insular or uninviting partnership.  Largely focused on reinvigorating the role of the flute as a leading musical tool, littlebow’s debut long-player seeks to scrub away the prejudicial image of the undervalued woodwind instrument that has been unfairly cemented into the rock cliché brickwork by the portentous one-legged prancing of Jethro Tull’s Ian Anderson.

In lesser hands – and indeed lips – this could have been a disastrous exercise in muso fetishizing but with the fusion of Phelan’s past pedigree in melodic electro-acoustic experimentation and English’s neo-classical background, the results are never less than interesting and frequently inspired.  In fact, although each of the ten wordless tracks are built around flutes played by both Phelan and English, the arrangements – fleshed-out by percussion, keyboards and other interlocking instrumentation – are so diverse and meticulously layered that the attention soon shifts from the implements to the implementation.

Although many of the influences at play on The Edge Blown Aerophone are sometimes easy to pinpoint and openly acknowledged by the two leading authors, the execution is so astute and engaging that any accusations of plagiarism melt away.  Hence the album runs through a bounty of styles and ideas with gracefulness and ornate grooves.  The opening “It’s Too Steep A Climb (For A Really Cheap Horse)” sets the proceedings in motion wonderfully, painting pastoral Ralf Und Florian-era Kraftwerk shapes with baroque brushstrokes.  Elsewhere, there are sparse near-ambient atmospheric interludes (“The Crooked Post Men Of Pershore” and “Thijs Drift”), Steve Reichian repetitions (“The Dripping Pan”), affectionate sincere nods to vintage Dutch prog-rock outfit Focus (“For Thijs”), Prokofiev-indebted orchestral storytelling (“Snapping Twigs” and “Oarsmen’s Lament”), Ellis Island Sound-like electro-organic exotica (“To Run Through The Christian Wolff”) and lush ruminative passages that reference Miles Davis’s indispensible In A Silent Way (“As Soon As Dawn With Her Rose Tinted Hands Had Lit The East”).

For a low-key debut – limited to a mere 400 CDs – The Edge Blown Aerophone is beautifully blessed with both freshness and proficiency.  It gorges the ears but still leaves them wanting more.  The fact that it also brings flautists back to the frontline of sonic invention and credibility is a happy by-product that shouldn’t go unrecognised either.  More soon please then, perhaps with the added challenge of saxophone rehabilitation…

Second Language Records

Second Language Label Podcast 10 (featuring extracts from The Edge Blown Aerophone)