In the days before map reading was a task assigned purely to satellite navigation, the Ordnance Survey reigned supreme when it came to a day out in the UK. Their beautifully rendered maps were guaranteed to cover every nook and cranny of the British countryside, with no annoying voice to remind you if you went wrong.
Mark Peters and Sonic Cathedral are tapping into that sense of direction and discovery once again with Innerland, a lovingly packaged debut solo release that further exploited 1980s memories with a limited edition release on cassette for its shortened version last year.
As shoegaze regulars will know, Peters is a founder member of Engineers, with whom he remains after 15 years, and he has also mapped out attractive soundscapes in collaborations with Ulrich Schnauss. Innerland finds him driving unattended for the first time, free to discover his own artistic places of interest.
Sonically, Peters’ music inhabits a very similar world to that of his collaborators, but it is far from the case of a performer lazily going with what they know, for there is a subtle but carefully managed craft at work here. Peters is adept at beginning from small, seemingly inconsequential cells of melody or harmony, developing them into meaningful and emotional phrases on which the listener subconsciously hangs, finding deep feelings without the use of words.
The map on the cover may be fictitious, but each of its place names are significant, with references to nicknames, folklore or both. Peters sets about describing each area in sound, with economical use of beats and a copious but highly attractive reverberation that takes the listener outdoors.
Twenty Bridges, a nickname for a disused viaduct Peters could see from his flat in the mid-1990s, is a soaring piece of architecture. The ambience used here paints a warm glow of the sky visible around and through the arches, simultaneously describing its unstinting presence and height.
May Mill is a densely populated place of differing moods, from the dreamy piano loops of its beginning to the heavier guitar work as Peters builds up a lumbering groove. Gabriel’s Ladder is a calm road with dreamy guitar meanderings that leads to Shaley Brow, a more expansive, wooded landscape with a history. The music becomes a little wary, Peters tapping into the slightly fearful knowledge of a place with a macabre edge.
Cabin Hill is clearly a place with happy memories, and with consonant harmonies and rich guitar layers the harmonies settle beautifully. We pan from this to Ashurst’s Beacon, the most obviously rhythmic track, where a simple but effective intro pans to a wider, guitar-led landscape.
Being armed with knowledge of the stories behind the music can be extremely helpful, painting ever more vivid pictures in the mind’s eye. Yet it is equally rewarding to listen to Peters’ music on its own terms, to admire his guitar craft and compositional sense, his gift for creating unhurried space, or the atmospherics that ensure a listener on headphones can literally feel the wind in their hair, or rain on their face.
Perhaps inevitably for a first solo album, this is Mark Peters’ most personal work to date. It is the dissemination of music that has occupied his inner ear for decades, the soundtrack to countryside and habitats that have been a lasting part of his life. Because of that, Innerland has a deep set emotional significance and intimacy that carries beyond Peters and out to the listener – and if you buy it on vinyl, you have some wonderful cover art. A settling and ultimately uplifting experience.