Songs of Green Pheasant: Gyllyng Street

[5 December 2007]

By Aarik Danielsen

Gyllyng Street, it is revealed in press materials, is the lane in the British port town of Falmouth where Songs of Green Pheasant architect Duncan Sumpner made his home while studying art over a decade ago. Sumpner is quoted as saying, “A lot of people who couldn’t get along in normal everyday life end up there because it’s slower with a more forgiving climate.”

This explanation from the artist who, more or less, is Songs of Green Pheasant is telling for two reasons. First, as the press material points out, this insight into the state of mind possessed by Gyllyng Street residents seems to be matched aurally by the gradually evolving, beautifully expansive and mood-altering tracks which Sumpner has created and recorded here.

Also, much has been made by other reviewers and journalists how mystifying Sumpner is to them; this mystique seems to come because of a normal background (Sumpner is an artist and teacher in his early 30s) and the relative lack of information about him otherwise available (web searches reveal the page on his label’s site and a random interview scattered about). So, that the information which best helps understand the context behind this record comes through press material seems fairly consistent and fitting.

Whether you find him enigmatic or not (in a digital age where consumers discover music without the use of hype machines or without necessarily identifying with an artist’s personality or history, perhaps such mysteries have faded), with Gyllyng Street Sumpner has crafted quite an intriguing record. With folk, ambient and shoegazing elements at play, Sumpner references Elliott Smith, Radiohead and late ‘80s/early ‘90s British guitar rock at different times, sometimes all at once.

With only seven tracks and a length around 42 minutes, there is much to digest on Gyllyng Street and this is not a project for the inattentive. Yet, the rewards to the alert listener are certainly present; several tracks sparkle with innovation and the album as a whole has much to offer.

The album begins with “Boats,” a cut which eases its way into being and lets the listener get lost in the lushness of Sumpner’s vocals. While the song treads into more conventional indie/ambient territory when the drums kick in and the guitars begin to grow more tuneful, the track sets the tone for the experimentation and development, which Sumpner intends to employ throughout the record.

“King Friday” follows and is arguably the album’s most dazzling moment; the shortest track on the album, the song moves along as a fairly nice indie soundscape before exploding in a burst of noise about halfway through and embarking on a blissful, albeit too fleeting journey through elements of melody and rhythm. The guitars and percussion seem equal partners to Sumpner’s voice, each instrument contributing to the greater whole.

Other distinct highlights include the British rock circa 1980s-influenced “West Coast Profiling” and the guest vocal turn from Julie Cole on “Fires P.G.R.” While each track has a moment or moments that augment the album’s overall quality, these songs shine brightly.

The only element that keeps Gyllyng Street from being a truly great record instead of a very good one (the space between the two is admittedly blurry) is its pacing. The album’s last track, “A Sketch for Maenporth”, is an eight-minute-plus, largely instrumental cut which seems to tug at the end of the album, making the record seem to drag or feel longer than it truly was.

The album can appear monochromatic instead of being allowed to reveal all the wonderful shades of similar colors that are present. While (again) each track is of worth, longer cuts like this might prohibit some interested parties from uncovering the richness in Sumpner’s work. A more even distribution of recording times could be kind to Sumpner’s overall effort.

If Sumpner is a mystery in some circles, Gyllyng Street may just add to the tale; it is a work of beauty and depth, deserving of consideration and concentration.

Published at: