There’s a great deal of whimsy about stars and the moon to be found in the lyrics of Down At The Devilin Tree, Coley Park’s debut album, but it’s no hippy statement from a bunch of ganje-toting American combi-van nostalgics with poetic pretentions to foist upon the world.
Signed to Mojave 3 front man Neil Halstead‘s fledgling Shady Lane label, the group, headed up by Nick Holton, take their name from the less than glam Reading suburb from which they hail. One guesses that imaginings of the moon and the stars inspired when compared to their prosaic surroundings.
The record gets going with Milky Moon, a track on which Halstead pops up playing the “synthetic keyboard”, adding interesting atmospherics to a track that otherwise goes nowhere beyond its opening.
But things begin to sound promising with the opening drumroll and spooky synth sounds of Sleeping Apart. This assault on the senses could be a jamming session between Calexico and The Divine Comedy – until the verse falls back to a relatively mundane pootle, with bluegrass guitar twangs and banjo nevertheless helping to maintain interest.
And then the first of several rather psychadelic tracks takes us Down A Hole – and it’s a little like the beginning of Alice in Wonderland. The tempo completely changes to a mellow, blissed-out state that would lend itself beautifully to a thousand stoner sessions. It’s on these slower tempo tracks that the production of the album comes into its own – everything lives where it should. There’s more in this tradition on Blue Hearts, possibly the most melancholic track on the album. This seems to be what Coley Park do best – the noisier tracks too often sound like an aural swamp by comparison with the quieter offerings.
In places the whispery arrangements work beautifully. Hidden Stars features a faint tinge of melodica and the subtlest guitar parts heard anywhere. It’d be a lullaby had it not been for the poignance of the lyrics: “You can’t stay forever / With something you want for a while.”
Elsewhere the drums are given another opportunity to rescue the slumbering listener from the woozily soporific. Eyes Are Only Water is made up of distorted guitars and vocals otherwise, but it gets the toes tapping. Achieving a similar feat is Across The Carpet Stars, the title track of the band’s mini album released last year and one of the highlights of this record.
The final track, Sleeping On Roads, confusingly features Halstead on backing vox – his own solo album used the same title. But this is a new piece penned by the band, rather than a cover. Still, it’s hard to presume the title was used coincidentally. Halstead’s association with Coley Park is one of their biggest selling points, and it hurts not a jot to allude to one of his titles.
In all, this is a promising debut that’s rough around the edges. Even with bass turned up, the production of the record underplays elements of the arrangement, which in parts itself sounds like it was recorded in one take. On a couple of songs the various guitar parts sound a little out of tune even – the overall feel is of a demo that would benefit from a polish. The homespun feel however suggests a confidence in their vision, and there’s enough here to suggest that Coley Park could produce something better in years to come.