William Ryan Fritch: Ill Tides
Lost Tribe Sound

Seabuckthorn: I Could See The Smoke
Lost Tribe Sound

Lost Tribe Sound's inaugural foray into the cassette market is a highly promising one, artistically speaking. The first two releases, available in hand-numbered editions of 100 copies and issued as part of the nascent series Dead West, come to us courtesy of the ultra-prolific William Ryan Fritch and UK-based guitarist Andy Cartwright aka Seabuckthorn. Though Fritch's Ill Tides is album-length and Cartwright's I Could See The Smoke an EP, they're complementary sets, being instrumental collections of expansive and evocative character.

Describing Fritch as prolific isn't mere wordplay, as long-time Lost Tribe supporters will readily attest. The multi-instrumentalist has produced a staggering volume of music over a ten-year span, with Ill Tides weighing in as his fourteenth full-length. When an artist produces such a wealth of material in a relatively short time, listeners can begin to take the work for granted and the appreciation for it diminishes; yet while that might generally be the case, Ill Tides serves as a powerful reminder of Fritch's remarkable gifts. As mentioned, it's an instrumental release whose ten pieces collectively make a compelling argument for his multi-layered and sonically rich sound. In keeping with the seasickly dimension signified by the release title, the cassette medium's natural warble aligns with the ambiance of the tracks, whether it be the scene-setting opener “Ghosts in the Gale,” the woozy “The Fog of Our Primes,” or the slow-swaying “Recoiled.” His swampy sound is well-accounted for in haunted moodpieces where drums plod, delicate harp and guitar melodies arc, and keening strings swoop, while his propensity for concocting material of quiet symphonic grandeur is conveyed by “At Odds,” “Furthest Shore,” and “Evaporate,” finely wrought pieces that are as mesmerizing as any on the release. In truth, the cassette's tracks would sound as much at home on any number of other recent Fritch releases, but it's quality material nonetheless.

Armed with a worn resonator guitar, a batch of twelve-strings, and drums, Cartwright laid down his EP in a mere two weeks after returning to Bristol following a mid-2016 European tour. None of it feels slapdash or tossed off, however; more likely, Cartwright was operating in full creative mode when the tour ended and was able to knock off the tracks with ease. The music roots itself within the America and British folk traditions, but specific geographical locales are transcended by the material's brooding and timeless qualities. Further to that, other influences enter into the picture, too: lulling finger-packing patterns give “Returnee” an almost classical feel, even if the distant moan of the resonator exposes the song's cryptic underbelly, while echoes of the Middle East seep into “Overgrown Courtyard” when Cartwright offsets an hypnotic ostinato figure with a ruminative twelve-string solo. In keeping with song titles such as “Seen as a Black Road” and “Passage of Old,” the six songs exude an elemental character as rich as long-tilled soil. Groaning bowed tones imbue them with a raw and rustic spirit that in certain moments suggests dark woods that even the least superstitious might think twice about entering. A twenty-three-minute total might be modest, but there's certainly enough here to make a strong case for Cartwright's project and to make one look forward with anticipation to future Seabuckthorn outings.

October 2016