A long time ago, in a galaxy far far away, where people were able to congregate in groups to watch musicians indulge in the act of live performance, Gazelle Twin and NYX, an electronic drone choir, collaborated to present Deep England. A reworking of Gazelle Twin’s last album (Pastoral) accompanied by other compositions.
And it was good. Good enough to warrant it being committed to a more persistent form. The form that we are presented with today.
As the title signposts and as you’d have been expecting if you were at all familiar the themes which Elizabeth Bernholz has, as Gazelle Twin, been particularly occupied with, Deep England is concerned with the darkness and discontent that lies beneath the surface of the green and pleasant lands of Britain.
And it’s not like all of the horrors that Pastoral in particular presented have become even more visible over the last few years. Nationalism becoming jingoism, leading into the demonisation of ‘others’ as the source of all problems? Nostalgia for a better past that almost certainly never existed? The emergence of a third information state – not true, not false, just believed? Nah. We’re all good now mate.
Through the addition of the extra voices and an emphasis to more traditional, nay medieval instrumentation, Deep England adds solemnity and weight to the glitchy, itchy, bug-eyed insanity of Pastoral. It’s also, somehow, even more terrifying. Still waters may run deep, but they also contain bigger fish.
We begins innocently. The sound of church bells, a flute ringing out. All is calm. All is bright. Then a single voice breaks through the mists, to be joined by others and slowly, surely, what started as bucolic becomes eerie and unsettling. It merges into Folly, and the voices sadly ponders “what species is this”, “what century is this” as formless chants swirl and mill around, spectres at some undefined wake.
Fire Leap is a cover of a song from The Wicker Man, a film with a close thematic alignment with the album. The vocal arrangements and subtle electronic drones lift it away from the original, but it’s primary purpose here is to set the stage for Better In My Day.
Then the child-like simplicity of the recorders give way to grunts, pants and moans. The scene shifts from nursery rhyme to something more primal. And, in its way, there’s something hilarious about the connotation. That the conclusion to everything being “better in my day” is that we should revert to some sort of Neanderthal-era existence, clubbing our dinner to death and being satisfied by an ability to create fire.
Taken as a whole, Deep England is a remarkable, memorable thing. Disquieting and disorientating for sure, yet offering plenty of strange, macabre pleasure.