When a legendary nightclub starts a new record label, it might be easy to assume that its output will be solely the stuff of late-night parties and dark, after-hours vibes. Not so with Houndstooth, the offshoot from London’s fabric. While its releases to date, coming from the likes of Call Super, _Unsubscribe_ and House of Black Lanterns, have definitely belonged to that mould, the label’s latest album couldn’t be more different. Snow Ghosts, the collaborative project from Throwing Snow and Augustus Ghost, also known as vocalist Hannah Cartwright, has given us “A Small Murmuration”, a dark, penetrative album that draws on its creators’ interest in British folklore. Following the “Lost At Sea” EP on Black Acre Records two years ago, this is a short yet satisfying album that evokes mystical times and star-crossed, often criminal lovers. We’ve been fans of Throwing Snow’s various endeavours for several years now, so this project is one that is dear to our hearts.
The album opens with the sinister, scorched effects of “The Hunted“, prefacing a narrative built around a pastoral scene imbued with terror and fear. “Murder She Cries” follows the dark natural world view, with blood-red flowers and drinking tears from the beady eyes of crows. It’s the first great example of this group’s adept skill at pitching pastoral, earthy vocals against electronic reference points, in this case an almost juke-like percussion board and dark, fizzing snyths. It was performed acoustically to great effect on Dermot O’Leary’s BBC Radio 2 show recently. “Covenant“, a collaboration with Blue Daisy, is the album’s sinister centre point. Built around a gurgling, Goblin-esque riff and pitching Cartwright’s vocals about a sort of blood bond down several octaves (a theme throughout), the track shifts from plodding dread to D&B-inflected terror. The jilted, stuttering phrases recall the opening of Throwing Snow’s “Aspera“, stretched out for increased anxiety. “Gallows Strung” changes the mood, if only sonically, as it tells a preamble of demonic escape and execution. The vocals follow a particularly medieval melody, evoking a time of darkness, drudgery and disquiet, all against the unusual bedfellows of a house-tempo beat and strings laden with emotion. One touchstone for this could be UNKLE’s “In A State“, an earlier attempt at creating an epic soundscape with strings and beats.
A beautiful moment of pause is found in “Time Listens“, as vocals meet plucked guitar strings. “Time listens to none,” sings Cartwright. “All bridges burn.” Indeed. “Ropery” follows a similar melodic style to “Gallows Strung“, while working from an entirely different palette. Swirling, lower-register strings, fluttering tablas and bouncing synths accompany another dark tale, referencing Tyburn Dock, for a long time the principal point of execution for London criminals. Reusing a line from “Murder She Cries” – we said to death, well not today – it reminds one of “Game of Thrones”, and Arya Stark’s Braavosi instructor Syrio Forel. This could be coincidence, but given the album’s propensity towards the medieval, we doubt it. After the epic strains of “And The World Was Gone“, a windswept, heartbreaking number, comes the malevolent closing strains of “In The Deep“, the groan of a cello and twisted vocals encouraging the listener to take comfort in guilt as the stars weep. Just as it began, the album closes on an air of menace. The inspiration for much of this menace can be found in the album sleeve – a reason in itself to own this album. The group referenced a series of Cartwright family photos from the 1930s in the creation of “A Small Murmuration”, and went to the trouble of talking through each photo over at Hyponik recently. If ever sound and image came together in beautiful fashion, it’s with this album.
Stream: Snow Ghosts – A Small Murmuration (Houndstooth)
Snow Ghosts A Small Murmuration is available now on Houndstooth.