[3 October 2013]
Following on from their extremely proficient and amazing debut album A Small Murmuration, Snow Ghosts, a duo comprising of Throwing Snow (Ross Tones) and Augustus Ghost (Hannah Cartwright), return to on-point label Houndstooth with their And The World Was Gone EP—a brilliantly moody slice of modern trip-hop replete with remixes from drum and bass auteur ‘Calibre’, former Vex’d-head- cum-noisemaker ‘Roly Porter’ and an enticingly brilliant cover version from the in demand Young Echo prodigy ‘Kahn’.
The project, first birthed in 2008 when Cartwright moved to England, started gaining traction in 2011 when the boutique Black Acre label released their debut offering, the beguiling Lost At Sea EP with little fanfare or hoo har. It was a stretch to think back then that Snow Ghosts would become such an important act and be at the forefront of the potential new trip hop revival that has been threatening, in an underhand fashion, to re-emerge since the release of Portishead’s comeback album Third in 2008. It didn’t happen as some predicted back then, but that was when dubstep in the UK was at its peak, and with the genre on the wane now, having had its place in the sun, perhaps this time round trip hop will re-emerge as a credible, marketable slice of the bass music zeitgeist?
Tones, so it seems, has had a penchant for trip hip stylings since the mid ‘00s, as seen by the output of his excellent digital imprint, A Future Without—a label that can count at least three members of the Young Echo collective as part of its brood, as well as being the first major organisation to see the potential in the young, folklore obsessed middle-eastern songstress Augustus Ghost.
Kicking things off as they finished is the titular “And The World Was Gone” the book-end to their A Small Murmation album. Incorporating morose guitar lines, inter-tangled with ambient, natural sound effects and organic world drum tracks, the track is a foreboding, but at the same time, uplifting take on old school trip hop. Sure, the boom bap drums that Portishead and co peddled in the ‘90s have been replaced with more organic, folky fare, and Miss Gibbons’ esoteric tones and delivery by a more folk driven vocal performance, yet despite this, the essence and life of the genre truly live on within the fabric of the Snow Ghosts DNA.
Cartwright’s vocal are absolutely stellar—channeling an almost medieval vibe with her folky utterances, in the process creating one of the most haunting and enchanting vocal performances in many a year. Eat your heart out Beth! Combine this performance with Tones’ moody, brooding, bass heavy soundscapes and you have one of the most accomplished down-tempo tunes created since the turn of the century and surely the soundtrack to many a person’s fuzzy-headed, post rave journey.
First up to plate on remix duties is Roly Porter, one half of acclaimed ‘dubstep/grime’ duo Vex’d. Truly, this is one of my top tracks of the year full stop. When I first heard about the potential collaboration I was extremely excited. Having digested and fully enjoyed the solo, almost noise inspired work Porter has undertaken since leaving Vex’d, I was expecting more of the same; beatless dread infused drones, in–yer-face darkness and swathes of mechanical noise. What I was not expecting was a return to the brutal percussive music that made him first famous. I not saying expect to hear Vex’d basslines or their signature punchy clap based drum tracks, because they aren’t present—instead we get an industrial take on the meditative music first laid down by Snow Ghosts.
Swathes of noise are brutally underpinned by relentless kick drum patterns which drives the track along in a superbly dark and horrific fashion. Punctuating the brute force of the instrumentation are snatches of Cartwright’s voice suspended in the air by rusted chains, like a dark-age torture device, providing an almost transcendent edge to the tune – as if somehow there is a beauty and honor in offering up flesh to appease the gods of torture and war, because that is what this tune say to me (if you have seen the French nouvelle horror film Martyrs you will know what i am on about here—if not, watch that film as well!). Its as dark as you like, getting under your skin like a parasite, crawling around in places you don’t want it to be. A truly exhilarating experience it surely is!
Drum and bass maestro Calibre step up to the plate (or what is left of it) next, a wise move on the part of the person deciding the track order of this EP, as only a vast change in tempo could follow the mess Porter left in his wake. The tune is light compared to what came before and is a tightly coiled liquid re-imagining of the title track. Its good, but nothing especially innovating has been done to the parts he has used—he utilizes the same guitar riff, the same basslines and the same ambience with little thought to adding anything new to proceedings. It rolls in a delightfully delicious fashion, but seeing as the original samples fit within his tempo frame anyway (half time) it feels a little bit lazy. The production is top notch, but it is lacking in emotion and comes across as a little stale when put next to the emotive tunes that join this one on the EP.
Last up is the highly regarded and extremely versatile Young Echo member Kahn, who strips away absolutely everything from the track save the guitar motif, which seems to have been replayed on a different instrument, a deep string sample and some of the natural ambiance. Most surprisingly for me though (although perhaps not so to people who have listened to his mix for Electronic Explorations from 2011) is the fact that Kahn has sung the lead vocal lines himself, and sung it extremely well as well. His delivery ranges from a husky whisper to assured, bold voicings through to exceedingly able wailings. This combined with Kahn’s ability behind the boards in multi-tracking and layering his voice leads to a tremendously emotive cover version that even Augustus herself would have been proud of articulating.
The EP is excellent, truly excellent seeing as it a remix project. Each track has its own personality that (with the exception of Calibre) although similar, takes on a completely different life from its mother/father, which, in my opinion is very rare with remixes nowadays—people either completely change the track up leaving no discernible reference to the tune that birthed it or go the other way and hardly change a thing. Thankfully this is not the case here, and resultantly I urge to go and get a copy of this!