Humankindweed, the new album from Fowl – the duo of Graham Browning and Hugh Nankivell – is a happy uncanny valley of songs that have a warm familiarity combined with an oddness that at times can take on slightly sinister shapes. Captured within the album is a confident comfort of storytelling which is pushed and stretched. They play with words and sounds and meanings. There’s a weirdness, but no more than the weird of your everyday.
Released today (March 23) it’s an anniversary album, they say, commemorating a year to the day after lockdown was called. It’s a lockdown album, made in lockdown and inspired and frustrated by it, too. But it has roots outside the confines of these pandemic times.
The pair cite echoes of Robert Wyatt, Benjamin Britten in Humankindweed, and say there are ‘characters trip-hopping and clip-clopping their way past 16th century bishops and mystics, indefatigable weeds, imaginary conversations and the melancholy of this 2-d life’.
This isn’t a one-listen album. Your reaction to it will change throughout the day, like the sun on a south-facing garden. It feels personal, global and kinda intergalactic.
This is their first vinyl album (also available digitally) and as is fitting for a two-sided tune disk, the ten tracks split in half and reflecting different moods.
“The two sides of the LP tell different sonic stories. Side one featuring production from Richard Evans (Peter Gabriel, Birdy, Jackie Oates…), cornet from Laurie Nankivell (Squid) and drums from Ben McCabe (Deep Cabaret). Side two featuring more eclectic oceans of sound including wild sax from Andy Williamson (Tom Robinson, Martha Reeves…), neo-orchestrations and found sounds.”
Way back when, (2002) Graham and Hugh were commissioned by Radio 3’s The Verb to make a piece with words and music that was not a song. They created a classic, Feeding the Ducks/Waiting For Geese. Which was followed up with Pigeons Can Disinguish. It’s a heritage that may give a clue to their name Fowl.
The album opens with Holes, which rumbles in with a rolling piano, for a tune that spins and spirals. It’s at once nostalgic, and with the horns, you get a feel of homeliness, even when it gets its most psychedelically confrontational, before coming back to the warmth of the circular nature of daily existence.
In Mountain you go stomping, stepping, climbing and descending. Robert Frost eat your heart out – these are roads you’re told to take. It’s a mysterious and almost melancholy tune, whose sense of fun makes it feel a bit more subversive.
Number 1 for Easter
Cue the Easter Number One – if that’s a thing… well, it should be. Nailed has a narrative of the Passion of Jesus running in the background (until it switches to general wood decor). It’s haunting, circular and beguiling.
Humankind is a ballad to the lament of modern life – a tune of lockdown and the human condition, and featuring Gummi bears takes a sweetied edge off the gloom.
Side one ends with Bindweed. A folk tune with voices in the round. A creeping sax invades the song like bindwind crawling around everywhere. By the end it fills your head, but probably won’t fill dancefloors. No worries – this is time to start worrying about it invading your garden, sink and (dare we say) pubic hair.
Side two opens with the mesmeric (there said it) Directors.
Knotweed takes the simplicity of what is and what isn’t into a trippy argumentative back and forth. It could be the electro virginal / harpsichord, or it might be the Proclamation, but Rules feels like a ye olde ditty the kind Henry VIII might have done before breaking with the Pope.
The geese in Geese have hot-winged it to the moon, like a dark fairytale. This story of reaching and exploring is another great example of how Fowl can open you up to adult-like, childlike wonder. The chimes and chunks of words and music leave you listening agog.
Closing with Daffodils, it stamps itself with spring-like hope and we’re back in the season where it all started. This is circular and keeps spinning. Time to start listening again.
Half Humankindweed was made in Torquay and half in West Yorkshire – it has a twang of both, they say. In their notes to the album they talk about remotely sharing lyrics, idea and fragments. And that the whole lockdown album-making process has mostly been a joy with inspiring people.
“With any luck at least one of these songs will give you a lift,” they say. Humankindweed gives you more than a lift – it’s a delicately supercharged rocket into a new world. Pin your ears back for the ride and follow those geese.
Humankindweed by Fowl. Listen now
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