Sunday, November 19, 2006

This Is Where The Trail Begins...

Reigns - The Lost Black Mass Footage

This is always a funny time of year for music on the release front. Some people’s thoughts are already turning to their end-of-year ‘Best Of…’ lists, and most of the record labels are eschewing new releases in favour of entering into the annual bun fight for premium racking for their most successful releases of the year at the major music retailers. However, this leaves the field clear for the more leftfield and interesting labels to carry on as normal and release wonderful albums like Reigns’ ‘Styne Vallis’, which came out last Monday on Jonson Family Records.

‘Styne Vallis’ is something of a concept album (but don’t let that put you off), based around the legend of a lost village, evacuated and strategically flooded in 1970 to make way for a reservoir. As the brief history states, “…the vacated dwellings were left standing and are still visible at the bottom of the reservoir.” It goes on to reveal that the water quickly stagnated and became toxic, despite all attempts at purification, which is linked to the town’s reputation for crime and incest! The accompanying booklet is titled as a ‘Salvage Inventory’, and contains details of the many artefacts recovered from the reservoir banks. Bizarre animal skulls which defy categorisation, an old diving mask, a rare land-dwelling crab known as the Teipeng Mossback, the poisonous Spore Regent weed and a copy of the Styne Vallis hymn book, the words from which are contained in some of the songs on the album. I found myself becoming totally engrossed in the story, and was even suckered into googling ‘Styne Vallis’ to see if it actually existed. A lost underwater village was just the sort of thing I always hoped I’d stumble upon while roaming the Dorset countryside as a kid, but I could never have imagined it as vividly as brother’s Tim and Roo Farthing have, the creative minds behind Reigns and the Styne Vallis project.

Musically, the album is a spellbinding mix of ethereal post-rock, combined with folk guitars, chiming glockenspiels, and fragile electronics, with spoken word and computer-manipulated vocals, telling the stories of the mythical village. It captivates from the off, and puts me in mind of early Sigur Ros, or even Slint’s ‘Spiderland’, though it follows a gentler path and never really explodes as you might expect. I’m posting the album’s opening track ‘The Lost Black Mass Footage’, with it’s low slung bassline, garbled vocals and uplifting climax. This is a perfect winter album; engrossing and warm. So don’t compile those end-of-year lists just yet, as you never know what’s around the corner.

Buy ‘Styne Vallis’ from the Jonson Family Records website, where you have the option to order it with a limited edition (200 copies) 7” featuring two tracks not featured on the album for £10
Reigns website
Reigns at My Space - the blog here documents various trips made to Styne Vallis which are well worth a read