1. Three Jumps the Devil (7:05)
2. You’ll Wait Forever (6:28)
3. Never Worry (3:59)
4. Thief (7:26)
5. Brightening Sky (5:23)
6. Rosa (16:09)
7. Bye Bye Now (5:33)
Robbie Wilson – vocals, guitars, trumpet, organ
Luke Foster – drums, percussion, piano
Peter Evans – bass, glockenspiel
Chris Lloyd – guitars, thumb piano
Thomas Feiner – vocals, instrumentation
Anna-Lynne Williams – vocals
Bruce White – viola
Helen Whittaker – flute
Autumn Chorus (a name that describes the band’s sound to a T) hail from the historic English city of Brighton, known to music fans as the setting to The Who’s iconic Quadrophenia. The band was born in 2007 from the close friendship between the four members, nourished by their shared love for the beautiful countryside of south-eastern England. That same countryside provided the setting for the recording sessions of their debut album, The Village to the Vale, which started in September 2009, with a number of guest musicians drafted in to add depth and richness to the final product. First released in 2011 as a digital download, the album found a home on the Fading Records subdivision of cutting-edge Italian label AltrOck Productions, and was released in CD format in May 2012.
While the album’s charmingly pastoral title and cover artwork might suggest a slightly twee, folk-tinged effort in quintessentially English style, a peer inside the elegant CD booklet will reveal that the homage paid by Autumn Chorus to the bountiful natural beauty of England’s green and pleasant land is quite far removed from the usual Seventies clichés. The stunningly beautiful, sepia-tinted nature photography that adorns the booklet offers a visual equivalent of the band’s stately yet riveting musical output, which blends the atmospheric, almost brittle quality of post-rock with the great English tradition of church choral music. It seems inevitable for any new band or artist to be compared to someone else, and Autumn Chorus are no exception – eliciting comparisons with post-rock icons such as Sigur Rós, or even with seminal post-proggers Radiohead. However, the most noticeable influence that will emerge after repeated listens of The Village to the Vale is Talk Talk’s groundbreaking 1988 album Spirit of Eden.
In keeping with the post-rock aesthetics, Autumn Chorus make use of traditional rock instruments to produce a sound that often hints at classical and chamber music. Indeed, the drums are employed as they would be in an orchestral context, to add texture and increase the emotional impact of a passage, rather than in the dynamic, propulsive role they usually fulfill in a rock band. Ethereal and tightly woven at the same time, the music moves in slow, swelling waves, interspersed with pauses of rarefied calm. The liberal use of those fascinatingly hybrid instruments, the glockenspiel and the thumb piano, adds a further layer to the solid foundation of traditional keyboards such as piano and organ, while the guitar is mostly used for dimension rather than as the main actor. However, Robbie Wilson’s enchanting choirboy-like voice, assisted by gorgeous vocal harmonies and paralleled by the nostalgic sound of the trumpet, is probably the most important instrument for Autumn Chorus’ sound.
Clocking in at about 52 minutes, The Village to the Vale features seven tracks ranging from the 4 minutes of the enchanting chorale of “Never Worry” – a melancholy, subdued piece laced with mournful viola and trumpet and embellished by angelic vocal harmonies – to the haunting 16 minutes of “Rosa”. Drums and organ impart a solemn, almost martial pace to opener “Three Jumps the Devil”, while Wilson’s politely wistful vocals find an echo in the sedate, vaguely forlorn sound of the trumpet. “You’ll Wait Forever” seems to embody the melancholy beauty of the autumnal season, with viola and surging keyboards reinforced by the delicate tinkle of the glockenspiel. The more upbeat “Thief”, somewhat reminiscent of Radiohead circa OK Computer, closes the first half of the album with an intriguing blend of conventional rock modes (including a rare guitar solo) and the folksy, pastoral touch of the flute.
“Brightening Sky”, probably the most accessible (and, in my view, least successful) track on the album, features the lovely voice of Anna-Lynne Williams alongside Wilson’s, though thankfully avoiding the corny results typical of many female-fronted prog bands. Far from being a run-of-the-mill prog “epic”, in spite of its respectable running time, “Rosa” is a veritable tour de force made of gradual build-ups culminating in explosions of sound, powered by drums, keyboards and guitar, and moments of gentle respite. The album is wrapped up by the haunting “Bye Bye Now”, a meditative, elegantly orchestrated piece in which the presence of a child’s recorded voice seems to hint at some private tragedy, also reflected in the title.
In spite of what may seem, The Village to the Vale is anything but a nostalgia trip, and manages to combine a timeless, old-world vibe with some thoroughly modern attitudes. Those who might believe that Autumn Chorus are just another addition to the ever-growing roster of rather unimaginative contemporary British prog bands had better think again. In fact, the album is one of those rare efforts that will appeal to both long-time progressive rock fans and those newcomers to the genre who may be daunted by an overly pretentious approach. Easily one of the most interesting debuts of the past few years, The Village to the Vale is a delightful listen that most prog lovers will appreciate.