Album Review: ‘Relent’ by Ancient Colours (on Preserved Sound)

‘Relent’ is the new album from Ancient Colours, the solo project of guitarist and songwriter Simon Allum, formerly of Fierce Panda band TV One and psych/prog band Winter Gods.  Allum wrote the material on ‘Relent’ over a period of about 12 months.  The music springs from a rich loam of inspiration, which include “Maurice Deebank, Bert Jansch, Kate Bush & Nick Drake while subtler inspiration is drawn from writers such as John Cowper Powys, Neil M Gunn, Arto Paasilinna and a lifelong fascination with the esoteric, the elements, british prehistory, landscape, memory and the human condition.”

Looking at the sepia & grey hues of the hazy image on the album cover and listening to the drones of the opening track, ‘Presence’, the listener might fully expect to be treated to an ambient guitar affair of soundscapes created from loops and effects. And while there would be nothing in the world wrong with that, the album takes a delightful turn with the clean finger-picked acoustic guitar and mournful viola of  ‘A Hundred Leaves’, a direction which the remainder of the record continues to explore.

Among the influences Allum cites, this lyrical and impressionistic style led prominently by the acoustic guitar seems closest to Jansch. Others that sprung to my mind were John Fahey, Robbie Basho, and Basho’s student, one my own favorite guitarists, Will Ackerman. This is especially evident on the songs ‘The Night Hangs Like A Jewel’, ‘A Message To This World From That Which Is To Come’, ‘I Know You Are Never Coming Home’, and ‘Silbury’.  Each one is a hand crafted gem with a sonic patina like burnished wood.

‘Pose of a Saint’ is another outstanding track in which Allum plugs back into the amplifier and creates reverie that reminded me of the very best of July Skies.  Soaked in dreamy reverb and melancholy, it paints a picture in sound of dappled sunlight, golden fields, and autumn afternoons.

The album then concludes with a sprawling 11 minute piece called ‘Thank You, Fog’ which returns to the ambient aesthetic with which it opened, seamlessly blending the acoustic and electronic together.  It serves as a lovely and satisfying conclusion to a very pleasing sonic journey.

Though ‘Relent’ undoubtedly draws on very specific interests, inspirations, and influences close to the artist, it remains abstract and impressionistic enough to connect with listeners on many different levels, which is exactly what Allum hopes to accomplish – “I could give a list of things that each track conjures up in my mind and the intention behind each one but that would be just my feeling about them, the most magical thing to me is when the listener claims them for him/herself and attaches their own personal meaning.”. 

All in all, ‘Relent’ is an album of poetic simplicity and profound beauty that rewards, even demands, repeated listening.  I cannot recommend it highly enough.

The album releases December 16 on Preserved Sound.

Listen here to ‘Pose of a Saint’:

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