The Soundcarriers have been away from our turntables for far too long but, happy days, they are back to bring us their own brand of pastoral folk/psychedelia on Wilds, their first release since the lush and long-since archived Entropicalia (vinyl copies of which now changes hands for many pounds on the internet).
First formed in 2007, Paul Isherwood, Adam Cann, Dorian Conway, and Leonore Wheatley do not rush to release their music and this album has percolated, fermented, and matured in the seven years since their last release. The album is called Wilds because, in-part, it started life in a cottage, with sessions recorded in the literal wilds, as well as being recorded in various other locations including an art gallery and primary school (the press release didn’t say whether that was during school hours, but I like to imagine a load of pre-teens wigging out during assembly).
However long it took to get Wilds to our ears they have not disappointed as we get nine incredibly strong tracks. The vanguard of these is ‘Waves’ which seems to kick open the doors and shout ‘We’re back!” as vocals and flute tumble around a dominant rhythm section of Carol Kaye-like bass and booming drums. The way that Isherwood (bass) and Cann (drums) play, they bring the same granite core that you only get in great rhythm sections such as Sly & Robbie and The Funk Brothers. This core allows the instrumentation and vocals to float and swirl over the top safe in the knowledge that they can’t lose site of the ground. This means that you can have tracks like ‘Traces’, which shimmers and twinkles like a satellite in the inky blackness of space, and the powerhouse of ‘At The Time’ or ‘Driver’, which could be themes from an ITC TV show like ‘Man In A Suitcase’ or ‘Randall and Hopkirk (Deceased)’. ‘Saturate’ is replete with an achingly beautiful tune and the title track, ‘Wilds’, glides along on swelling organ and raindrops of piano. The album closes with , ‘Happens Too Soon’, a swoon of a track, lulling and contemplative with melancholy harmonies and a wistful crescendo. Bliss!
The band eschew clinical recording practices preferring to build tracks from “a feel or groove” and say they “didn’t want the recording to sound too over-polished”. The cohesion comes from the band doing the work of playing together, sculpting and honing the music and not just relying on the studio to jigsaw the tracks into shape. Wilds is the better for this approach and hits the sweet spot between too loose and over-played, making it a Goldilocks of a record.
The Soundcarriers hark back to a time of coffee shop culture where you can drive to a ‘happening’ in an open topped Healey Sprite through the neon of night-time city streets. The English have a unique way of making polite psychedelia out of bone China tea sets and verdant green hills and can open their third eye while still holding an umbrella in case it rains. While I can hear Syd Barret-era Pink Floyd (brilliantly brought back to life recently by Nick Mason’s Saucerful of Secrets), Julian Cope (especially during the Fried-era) or the best library music, this is not dewy-eyed nostalgia. The Soundcarriers have forged their own sonic world summed up by the band saying they want to “create songs that were like those rare oddities you find on a bizarre charity shop record. A collection of ‘one offs’ capturing a moment rather than trying to make a hit song”.
Wilds is a triumph without a single weak track. If this is the kind of bravura output you get then more bands should slow cook their music in cottages, primary schools, and art galleries. It’s intoxicating, uplifting and energising, and if you ask me whether it was worth the wait then I will wildly shout a resounding “Hell yes!”.
Review by Paul F Cook