Spring’s here! Well, not at the moment because it’s horrible out there. But changes are happening. Lambs are out and about, geese are getting very territorial (this humble scribbler was attacked by one last week. A row of teeth on a tongue is something I never want to see again), the trees are starting to bud and it’s just a few short hours before the clock in my car once more tells the correct time. In the meantime, it’s about enjoying the transition where everything’s forcing its way out into bloom and making the most of the sunshiney bits. This record definitely qualifies under that criteria.
Hintermass is Ghost Box‘s coming-together of The Advisory Circle’s Jon Brooks and Seeland (and formerly Broadcast)’s Tim Felton. With that in mind, it wouldn’t be wholly unreasonable to expect something a bit summery with more than a touch of electronic nostalgia and otherworldliness thrown in for good measure. And you’d be fairly accurate as well, but there are more than a few surprises along the way…
It’s definitely a pop album, all hooks and lightness, but it’s all tempered with an otherness that typifies Ghost Box’s approach to everything they do. The titular opener has that Barrett-esque knack of making the cheery and pastoral sound every so slightly creepy, which makes it the perfect introduction to the rest of the record – a reprise of this also closes the first side, by which time everything that has gone on in between will have the listener perfectly acclimatised to Brooks and Felton’s world.
More surprising unsurprisingness comes all the way through the rest of the album. It’s a constantly experimental, ever-shifting experience that showcases both artists’ love of doing something different and warm, the beautiful track 2 Rituals of Reversal illustrates this perfectly with a mixture of gentle folk guitar and calm electronica mixed in with sitar drones and tabla percussion. From here on in, Hintermass’ world is firmly and colourfully-established, and they’re free to take the listener wherever they want.
The Apple Trees‘ world is also notable for being rather large. Maybe it’s deceptively so, as some tracks are a very unpop-like 5 minutes plus in size and the shorter tracks feel a lot bigger thanks to Brook’s electronics creating a true sense of expansion and Felton’s warm, rich vocals (somewhere between Greg Lake and Ralph McTell, I scribbled down upon first hearing this) bringing a midsummer lullaby feel to the more human elements. It is also actually rather big, clocking in at over three-quarters of an hour to lose oneself in.
The strangest and most wonderful part comes from its sense of place, as it very much creates its own. As the record flows by, there’s a weird symmetrical feeling of different movements from different places coming together somewhere completely different. What if the German Kosmiche Musik movement started in Canterbury instead of Cologne? What if New Romaticism had sprung up in East Berlin and the early 1970s instead of London and Birmingham? It’s these “What if?”s that give The Apple Tree the unique and beautiful sense of time and place that it occupies.
I’ve not really picked on individual tracks, as I’d probably have to mention all of them to properly convey how everything fits. It’s probably best that you pick it up and have a go at it yourself. Although I could possibly single out While Away‘s genuine pop credentials, starting out with brief ponderous Broadcastish percussion plods before becoming surprisingly joyous and jaunty that alternately channels the theme to the BBC’s Stargazing Live and Men Without Hat’s Safety Dance. It really is that good. Overall, it’s one of those records that firmly puts you inside your own head wherever you are, changing the perception of everything that’s going on outside it and is a brilliant piece of work for doing so.