Everyone Was A Bird is the third outing for the duo of Andrew Phillips and Marcus O’Dair recording as Grasscut. Each has an extensive musical CV – Phillips as a producer and composer of over 200 scores for film and television and O’Dair as a journalist, author, lecturer and broadcaster not to mention session musician – and their previous releases have demonstrated potent ability to blend electronica, pop, & experimental music with cerebral lyrics and heavy cultural references. With the new album they have managed to raise their own bar even higher with the addition of live and orchestral elements and a compelling compositional framework. In short, it is a stunner.
One can listen to Everyone Was A Bird casually and get plenty of enjoyment from the sophisticated arrangements, the fetching melodies, and the mellifluous vocals. But there is so much more going on here and a deeply felt sense of place is at the heart of it . Not just a geographical sense, but a sense that embraces the human imprint and connection. That concept could not be any more genuinely certified than to place the liner notes in the hands of Robert Macfarlane, an author who writes thoughtfully and eloquently about just such themes. (see for example The Old Ways).
“Everyone Was A Bird is an album ‘born of footfall’. Each track corresponds to a particular place, and each carries a record of ‘the steps that the place demanded’: a topographic tempo, as it were. The locations range from the island of Jersey, to the South Downs, to the mountains and estuaries of Wales. The question of ‘nation’ is almost an irrelevance; far more active are the Welsh concepts of cynefin (the heartland of one’s childhood), hiraeth (one’s yearning for a place of belonging, in which one might dwell) and ardal (a place one has come to love through experience) All three forms of place-attachment can be heard and felt here.” – Robert Macfarlane
Thus each song has a solid rhythmic and melodic core, but then it is embedded in a soundscape that evokes the landscape that corresponds to it. We feel the wind buffet our faces in ‘Islander’. We can imagine standing on cold, wet ground watching ‘Curlews’ as the strings pulse like beating wings aiming skyward. And we share the emotional bond through the soaring strings and chorus of ‘Radar’.
Listen to ‘Curlews’
The album is also as rich in cultural references both literal and metaphorical, historical and imagined. Macfarlane’s essay-like notes explain:
“The record is densely referential. And what a mixture of people it gives voice to: from experimental poets (George Oppen, Ed Dorn) to the architect of Coventry Cathedral and Trawsfynydd nuclear power station (Sir Basil Spence), from Hilaire Belloc through to Siegfried Sassoon, in the poem that provides the album with its title. ‘O But Everyone / Was a bird, wrote Sassoon in his account of the announcement of the Armistice on 11 November, 1918. The Armistice’s signing led to singing: the men of Sassoon’s regiment, the Welch Fusiliers, broke into songs of celebration, and the joyful surge of feeling in those raised voices is unforgettably caught in the poem” – Robert Macfarlane
This is particularly manifest in the next section of the record – the haunting voices we hear singing through the veil of time at the start of ‘Fallswater’, the spoken words at the end of ‘Halflife’, or the melancholic nostalgia of John Surman’s reeds in ‘Snowdown’. The album then ends powerfully with the gorgeous strings in ‘The Field’ and the closing track ‘Red Kite’ in which Sassoon’s poem repeats as a refrain over the build up to a rousing and transcendent finish. It will take attentive listening and careful reading to suss out all the references embedded here, but that just makes the record all the more rewarding and Macfarlane’s indispensable notes are a great help.
Grasscut is also extending the album experience in two ways. The first is a series of landscape themed videos, one for each song, from director Roger Hyams and photographer Pedr Browne. The second is an interactive project in which fans can submit their own reflections on special places via audio some of which may be featured on a new track to be released later in the year. Everyone Was a Bird is available on CD and Vinyl from Lo Recordings and in digital format via iTunes and Amazon.
Liner notes by Robert Macfarlane: http://www.grasscutmusic.com/#!liner-notes/c21cl
Wacth the video for ‘Fallswater’ (directed by Pedr Browne)