Kingbastard: Beautiful Isolation
Herb Recordings

Chris Weeks' latest Kingbastard opus, Beautiful Isolation, shows what can happen when one retreats into a studio located in the hills of rural Pembrokeshire for a year. Such isolation can induce a kind of madness in the withdrawing individual, and, while Weeks hasn't quite turned into a modern-day Syd Barrett, there is an aura of Pink Floyd-styled trippiness about the album. Atom Heart Mother and Meddle occasionally come to mind as Beautiful Isolation plays (the Pink Floyd connection declares itself during “Multicolour Octopus Ink Nightmares” when Weeks' vocals exude the breathiness one associates with David Gilmour's singing), and the material's episodic character recalls the same kind of restlessness that pervades Smile tracks like “Cabinessence” and “Heroes and Villains.” Generally speaking, the album's mood is more celebratory than downspirited, as Beautiful Isolation flirts with madness of the mesmerized and bedazzling kind as opposed to the darkly psychotic.

Weeks' creative imagination is in full flower throughout as the album moves from one luscious setting to the next. Moments of ambient tranquility rub shoulders with acoustic folk passages, with all of it enhanced by field recordings and saturated textures of one kind or another. The opening track covers so much ground in its seven minutes, it can be heard as an exemplar for the album as a whole. After swooping in on a wave of choral exhalations, “Losing My Mind Through Bridge Meadow” meanders exploratively, testing out various directional possibilities, before phased vocals penetrate the mist with the trippy “I'm losing my mind” refrain to establish the album's overarching style: electrified psychedelic-folk. The nine tracks that follow include their fair share of treated vocal hamonies, strings passages, and kaleidoscopic arrangements that shape-shift episodically rather than stay in any one place for too long. “The Slippery Slope to the Lost Art of Conversation,” for example, segues from an early vocal passage to a lilting acoustic guitar picking spotlight before coming to rest with a repeating carousel melody. Consequently, the album feels less like a collection of ten self-contained pieces and more like a seventy-minute travelogue that takes in innumerable scenes.

Weeks plays it relatively straight in “The Deserter,” a brooding vocal folk song with acoustic picking accompanied by harmonica, while “Open Up Your Mind & The Door” morphs from a crackled-drenched drone into a spacey vocal mantra with Weeks intoning the title repeatedly. “Prendegast Cherry Grove” presents a time-supending oasis of blurry washes and becalmed tonalities, but lest anyone accuse Weeks of being too bucolic, the title track underlays his breathy enunciation of the track's title with a huge beat pattern that gives immense heft to the track's radiant synthesizer and piano melodies. In its opening half, “Sound the Alarm, There's a Dark Sea Rising” sounds like a lost Eno ballad from the Here Comes the Warm Jets / Taking Tiger Mountain (By Strategy) period, especially when the repeated “Sound the Alarm” refrain and the vocal counterpoint are so Eno-like; in its second, the material gravitates towards a krautrock zone when motorik beats gallop alongside repeating electronic melodies. Even if one hears an occasional echo of another artist, that does nothing to lessen one's impression of Weeks' recording. The wealth of ideas and imagination on display throughout this excellent album registers much more powerfully than does any question about influences or derivativeness.

May 2010