P.J. Philipson: Peaks
Little Crackd Rabbit

There's a great deal to admire about Peaks, a fifty-five-minute collection of guitar settings crafted by Manchester-based P.J. Philipson, who's played in Starless & Bible Black and The Woodbine & Ivy Band. It's worth noting, first of all, that the entire recording was laid down during the transitional hours between two days in late June of 2012 at St. Margaret's Church, Whalley Range, Manchester; it also bears worth mentioning that the dozen tracks contain no overdubs, with everything present having been recorded directly to two amps. But the most important thing to note about Peaks—aside from how uniformly excellent this solo debut is—is how broad and rich a range of sounds Philipson has managed to coax from his instrument. Yes, in many tracks the guitar is identifiably present, often in multi-layered form, but as often it assumes the character of an organ-like instrument—appropriately, given the location at which its material was laid down.

“Litton Funeral Chase Sequence” is one of those instances where the track's sounds could be taken for organ had one not been informed otherwise. Instrument details aside, it's a beautiful piece of music, as is “Transfiguration #1,” a melancholy reverie whose crystalline character recalls the guitar sound Robert Fripp brought to his own solo soundscapes releases (e.g., At the End of Time: Churchscapes, Live in England & Estonia, 2006). The stereo-delay approach Philipson applies to the material is well-represented in a piece such as “Looking West from Bleaklow Head,” whose long trails conjure the impression of a train traveler lapsing into a meditative frame of mind whilst viewing the scenery rushing past. The effect is applied in equally fine manner to the sun-dappled lilt “The Dane and the Goyt,” which Philipson's guitar lines imbue with resplendent sparkle. Moods of many kinds emerge over the course of the album, from the haunting and mournful (“Memory of Marshall Howe”) to the gently supplicating (“At the Tallest Gates”).

The accompanying press material clarifies that the material on Peaks was inspired by “the hills, dales, moors, and villages of north-west Derbyshire” and that “each track is titled and based around locations in England's Peak District.” A listener unfamiliar with the area might not be able to associate the pieces with this particular locale but will definitely respond to the material in his/her own way, given how powerfully evocative it is. Guitarists such as Fripp, Vini Reilly, Robin Guthrie, Michael Rother, and Richard Skelton are name-checked in those same notes as possible reference points, but Peaks ends up sounding like Philipson alone in the way it carves out an individualized soundworld that's reflective and even often hymnal.

June 2014