Songs Of Green Pheasant: Gyllyng Street

When Songs Of Green Pheasant's self-titled debut appeared two years ago, it was met with a deservedly rapturous critical reception. The group's third release, Gyllyng Street, certainly suggests a similar reaction wouldn't be out of order (Aerial Days, released in late 2006, is not a formal set of all-new material but a collection of demos, radio tracks, and unreleased early bits). While the lo-fi, hazy production style that characterized the folk-styled first has been upgraded to 8-track and the group's sound is more robust, the Songs Of Green Pheasant sound remains intact. That doesn't surprise, as the group's nucleus remains Duncan Sumpner, a 32-year-old Oughtibridge-based artist and teacher, and furthermore the album's content roots itself in autobiography: Gyllyng Street is the name of the Falmouth (Cornwall) road where Sumpner lived as an art student during the mid-‘90s, and the album's material references the era, and the idealistic and over-zealous young man Sumpner was at the time.

Though the presence of drummer Jonathan Gill and bassist Oliver Bird lends Gyllyng Street's opening songs “Boats” and “King Friday” expansive character, the intimacy of Duncan's soft whisper remains intact. The first song nicely inaugurates the album with an upwardly rising intensity and searing guitar solo while the second's distinguished by a rich latticework of tremulous and chiming guitars. Subtly cloaked in reverb, Duncan 's ethereal voice works its entrancing magic most powerfully on quieter material like “The Ballad of Century Paul.” The stately “West Coast Profiling” exploits the sonic potential of the full band without overshadowing the haunting vocal melodies that haunt its center. Frankly, the insistent drum attack and dominant piano moves the Songs Of Green Pheasant sound, instrumentally, in the direction of Coldplay though, vocally, there's little commonality between Duncan Sumpner and Chris Martin. Shuddering guitars and Clive Scott's soaring trumpet transport “Alex Drifting Alone” to a dreamy plateau, but what distinguishes the song most is the natural ease with which it organically moves through multiple moods and levels of intensity. Not a moment of the song's eight minutes is wasted; it's as long as it needs to be and not a second longer. Gyllyng Street turns even more picturesque in its closing songs: Sumpner steps aside to allow Julie Cole handle the vocal lead during the pitter-pattering meditation “Fires P.G.R.,” and opts to end the album with an instrumental soundscape, “A Sketch for Maenporth,” which merges willowy guitar atmospherics with field recording elements that evoke a rainy, windswept seaside.

Compared to Songs Of Green Pheasant's debut, the new album clearly expands upon the group's originating folk-haze sound without sacrificing its distinctive essence. If there's no one song on Gyllyng Street that captivates as powerfully as the debut's “I Am Daylights,” the new album not only succeeds as a complete work that's consistently strong but is also refreshingly irony-free and sincere in tone.

October 2007