07 March 2011

My Autumn Empire - the village compass (2010, Wayside And Woodland / Thomason Sounds)

First official solo album for Benjamin Thomas Holton, from  Staffordshire, UK, also member of epic45 and occasional collaborator of Antohny Harding (July Skies).

"The Village Compass" is a collection of intimate indie folk pastoral songwriting, recorded between 2005 and 2008, under the obvious influence of artists such as Hood, Empress, Appendix Out or Movietone, all of them have probably haunted his adolescence, but turned here into a more direct, à fleur de peau, personal & solo expression, which you could also link to works of recent artists such as Talons' or Vio/Miré, as all of them combine stripped-back folk songs, with sparse electronics and field recordings.

This release if full of early summer and late spring sounds at the countryside, haunted by nostalgia but not totally disconnected from the invading city life.  

A nice and refreshing instrumental, "Walking Way", opens the album and sets the mood : an atmosphere of mixed wonder and melancholy as the spring blooms in gardens and nearby meadows. 

It is followed by the darker and bitter-sweet "The Approach Of The Sky", a slow and whispered slightly desperate and translucent intimate song, about the passing of time and the receding of the countryside through new housing developments. A theme which strangely directly echoes the recent "The Holy Forest" EP of Two Bicycles.

Each time "The Village Compass" cold make us feel down, there is a soothing balance with the next track as it the case with the beautiful sunny atmosphere of "We were happy", sitting in the grass, looking at sparse white clouds crossing the sky. There is also a sense of dynamism in certain instrumental songs, like with "The Playing Field", which sounds like how kids can be beside themselves with joy. Next it's time to return to something more introspective and deep with the melancholy of "Woodland Theme, Wood Alcohol".  

After another sensitive instrumental, "BBC Telford", "Block Colours & Straight Lines offers some of these euphoric melancholic feelings we can feel, while walking late spring, with the nature in full expansion, everything green and growing. 

We embark for the five minutes voyage of "The village Compass" beautifully built around field recordings of birds, cars and other distant sounds, where we can almost feel the pleasant warmth of the sun on our skin. The three last tracks explore similar areas with the same success. 

This debut album is quite successful but also very gentle and sensitive, pleasant and comforting. If there is some melancholy captured along the way it is directly counterbalanced by very appeasing countryside atmospheres and a persistent perfume of spring. 

Maybe I would have enjoyed more songs with vocals because the ones featured here are really interesting and show promising directions, but I guess, for that, I'll have to wait for a second album. "The Village compass" is already a keeper. 

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