The Walled Garden by ReignsRelease date: September 18, 2020
Label: Wrong Speed Records
The isolation of a rural upbringing leaves a mark on the imagination of the curious child. The dark empty night on the land, the violence of the struggle for survival, the banality of life and death. It can all lead to a melancholy cast of mind, dwelling upon dark things, cursed imaginings. The mystery of the Farthing brothers would seem to be just such a case. Styling themselves as operatives A & B they make haunted electronic investigations of unwholesome obsessions. They are our untrustworthy narrators of a dark and hidden history, explored here through a series of compact mood pieces.
The squeal of a rusted gate sounds our entrance into The Walled Garden, we hear birds, a steady bass pulse approaches. The brittle snare hits and twinkling analogue electronics of ‘Panther Cap’ have a subtle Kraftwerk glow about them, smooth propulsion carrying us forward amid snatches of ghost voices and found sounds. Eventually we stop to heed them, brass swells, a wordless voice repeats, like a stuck record or looping stone tape. Is it a warning? On ‘Adder’s Root’ a liquid guitar melody flows around bright keyboards like something The Cure might have come up with once upon a time.
The Walled Garden is the first Reigns album for almost a decade. It is mostly, but not entirely, instrumental and electronic. However, it is blessed with extensive accompanying notes. The steadfast blacksmith’s nail from which this particular occult bundle of sticks swings is the tale of a poison garden at Kendall Hall. Long overgrown and forgotten, now rediscovered. The tracks are named for poison plants and features of the grounds. Reigns have previously done soundtrack work for the BBC and there is some Radiophonic folk horror rustling in the undergrowth here but despite the set up they do not overplay the dread. The music itself does not feel toxic, the garden’s sinister aspect is considered in a spirit of enquiry. Sunlight falls across the misshapen, overgrown, beds or, in ‘Moonshade’, a calm crepuscular light.
‘The Ash Pit’ features a muttered tale in which an unknown observer relates a grim undertaking, a mysterious burning of something wrapped in a rug. It is a masterful piece of writing that skirts about its unmistakable central event and retains an icy chill even after several listens. “What song was he singing, by the smouldering pyre? Maybe the one about ladybirds, with houses on fire.” Whatever is going on in ‘The Sickener’ is more opaque, a sober voice from beyond the grave recounts instructions for a ritual to be carried out “In remembrance that you did most cruelly slay me.” It’s the peak of the album’s tendency towards hauntology from which it mostly keeps a respectful distance.
Initially released digitally in the spring The Walled Garden is now available on vinyl, the first release from Wrong Speed Records. Further testament to what can be achieved absent the distractions of the metropolis, the label is the latest project from the ceaselessly industrious Joe Thompson. You might remember Joe from his role as bass player in such splendid bands as Hey Colossus or Henry Blacker, or perhaps for the excellent book he published last year about his years toiling at the DIY coal face. Currently unable to tour he started a blog to enthuse about records. It has already grown into a podcast and record label. Rest assured, while Joe Thompson draws breath the UK will always have a DIY scene.
Keen observers might surmise that the reason this is the first Reigns record in nine years is that they’ve been playing in Henry Blacker with Joe. This may be entirely coincidental. That this is a fine record to start a label with there can be no doubt. Like its subject there’s much more going on than first appears and, appropriately enough for music about a garden, the changes unfold organically, you have to pay attention to catch them. The glorious exception to this rule is a moment in ‘The Sundial’ when the bright clockwork rhythm and telephone sounds stop for a pebble to skitter across the sundial’s face like a roulette wheel. A pastoral calm beset by aural hallucinations The Walled Garden is a weird and hidden treasure, pay it a visit.