Seabuckthorn is the project of UK multi-instrumentalist Andy Cartwright. His latest EP, I Could See the Smoke, is one of two primary releases on Dead West, the new limited edition cassette tape series from the Lost Tribe Sound (the other being the excellent Ill Tides by William Ryan Fritch).
The release defies simple description, with folk and drone meeting a modest grandeur that would be at home in the neoclassical canon. Like all Lost Tribe Sounds releases, it’s music that’s meticulously planned and executed, dense compositions that are enmeshed with themes and narrative arcs despite their wordless nature. The vibe is difficult to pin down – at times mystical and hallucinogenic, others downright ominous. As Cartwright describes, “Recorded & mixed over a period of two weeks whilst feeling the heat (both literally & politically) I opted for a threatening, even apocalyptic EP title. Saying that, I think most of these songs can offer up a tranquility to counteract the gravity of these uncertain times, a calm inside the eye of a storm.”
The title track introduces this thematic juxtaposition, and, despite the beautiful guitar work, darkness is never far away. Behind lurks a sound like the blare of a siren, as if warning of incoming terror, a tornado or air raid.
‘Seen As a Black Road’ bubbles with rustic guitar, coming across as sparse Americana until synths rise beyond like some spectral light in a desert sky. ‘The Good River’ wheezes and breathes its way to life, the percussion a steady pulse in the background, the 12-string guitar morphing into a mournful dirge. To my mind ‘Returnee’ sounds autumnal, the guitar dipping and swirling like a cascade of golden brown leaves, while ‘Overgrown Courtyard’ is dark and pensive, the rightly wound lead guitar tumbling over foreboding drone. The tape closes with ‘Passage Of Old’, which sounds morosely grand and somehow more European than the other songs on the album, like the theme of some beleaguered monarch watching his kingdom burn from a hilltop.
You can get I Can See the Smoke now on cassette or digital download from Lost Tribe Sound, via the Seabuckthorn Bandcamp page.