Now this is an oddity. De-tuned acoustic guitar, gentle piano, light electronics, muted beats and occasional vocals are combined to produce an album that lurches between summery pastoralism and queasy claustrophobia – often in the same song.
Sunken Foal is known as Duncan Murphy by his mum. He’s from Dublin and Fallen Arches is his debut album. Tracks like “Dutch Elm” and “Cash Poor” are dominated by acoustic plucking and warm piano chords, and yet there is something just slightly ‘out’ about the music that separates it from the chill-out crowd. This is more apparent on “A Bear In The Hermitage” where the guitar has that kind of stilted, off-kilter sound that characterises John Cage’s prepared piano works. The beats, too, are slightly off-centre. Somehow, though, the result isn’t a wilful atonalism, but melodic, if a little disconcerting. The vocal (sample?) towards the end of the track transforms a snatch of a sing-song nursery rhyme into something unsettling and almost threatening.
Back when I was little, the village carnival always included a version of “It’s A Knockout”, played against teams from neighbouring towns and colleges. It culminated in the piano smashing competition where each team had a clapped out piano, and the winner was the one who could get it all through the middle of a suspended tyre. It involved much swinging of sledgehammers, crunching of wood and twang of piano wire. I mention it because “Foathing” sounds like the ghosts of those smashed pianos – strings detuned and broken, wood splintered and cracked.
The more I listen to this album, the more I’m fascinated by it – especially by the juxtaposition of laid back melody and discord. The electric guitar on “Rotunda” follows a familiar chord progression, but the acoustic sounds like a banjo after it’s been used against the proverbial cow’s arse. It’s surprising that this isn’t a distraction, but instead adds a kooky charm of its own. “Rikkic” is a favourite, too, even if it has more in common with Planet Mu boss Mike Paradinas’s stuff than it does with much of the rest of this record.
Ultimately, Fallen Arches is an album that defies adequate description. There are elements that will be familiar to fans of Animal Collective and Fennesz. Some of the more expansive tracks have a lot in common with the slightly boss-eyed sound of Matt Elliott’s recent work. Some people might find the ‘wrongness’ of some of the instrumentation too distracting. I find it refreshing and like the album a lot.
Fallen Arches is released by Planet Mu on September 29th.
1. Dutch Elm
2. Without Any Thought
3. Cash Poor
4. A Bear In The Hermitage
5. Can’t Fuck The Moonlight
6. Pumpy McGee
8. On Platinum Rays
9. The Rotunda
11. Hindsight Is 20:20