Grasslands is a tricky beast musically speaking. I have experienced it as a solo player and watched a full-band version. I have witnessed deft acoustic guitar sets. I have seen edge-of-chaos electronic overloads. I have even been at gigs which feel more like environmental TED talks than conventional gigs and one that broke out into a sort of eco-mime. But, regardless of the form, Grasslands is never less than inventive, entertaining…unique.
This latest album is self-described as power-ambient music, which, whilst being wonderfully oxymoronic, is a term that makes sense once you start listening. It describes the beautiful juxtaposition of delicacy and structured beats, cinematic ebbs and flows and more song-driven concerns: drone and drift, traditional song and exploratory soundscaping.
As always, the music has its roots (see what I did) in the splendour of the natural world, but it is also the result of the artist having tried to successfully navigate the lockdown years to find a safe space of balance and peace. The result is one of the most Grasslandic albums so far, even if that suggests you can limit this eclectic creator to any one sound or style.
A Small Meadow Act immediately reminds me of ‘Ouses ‘ouses ‘ouses, the first track on Simon Emmerson’s gorgeous, eponymous Imagined Village debut album. That same combination of ancient vocal wisdom and modern electronica. But it is the third track that gets to the album’s essence. Mantranome is like a modern Buddhist chant, a slow-burning, repetitive, seductive collaboration with close associates Sotoyoto and Zero Gravity Tea Ceremony. As the saying goes, chants would be a fine thing. Indeed they are.
There are more dance-driven songs, such as Grass Dance. There is a genuinely odd sonic experiment in the form of a strange and ominous noise-scape that goes by the snappy title of Rejoice! The Dream Cathedral Emerges From the Clouds. There are Vangelis-esque ambient drifts, such as the album opener, The Retreating Waves of Susanoo.
It is part odd, part excellent. Always fascinating, unmistakably, Grasslands.