Wednesday, 19 September 2018

The Hare and the Moon - The Gray Malkin (2010)

Just to get it out of the way, I was once quite partial to the neofolk. It's appeal, at least for me, lay in the juxtaposition of musical forms which had, by that point, become indelibly stamped as innocuous through childhood memories of watching Val Doonican or the Spinners on the telly, in stark contrast with the subject matter, the black uniforms, the whole ambiguity of are they or aren't they? - which has obvious appeal when you're young, irritable and disinclined to think about anything in too much detail. Then as you get older, you realise that they are - or were in a few cases - which is probably partially why we're in the mess that we're in now and why no-one seems quite certain as to whether Hitler is still a bad guy or just someone who went about things the wrong way. Anyway, the realisation left something of a bad taste in my mouth because really, I knew on some level that there was more to our neofolk banner carriers than simply not liking reggae. Having one of the more corpulent representatives of the form visit me in my own home, take up space on my sofa, use my artwork, call me a fairy on his website, and then turn out to have really, really, really disliked reggae all along was also annoying, and has subsequently somewhat sucked the fun out of listening to the one Sol Invictus album that wasn't shit.

So, it takes work to get me listening to neofolk, and I notice with some sense of relief that the Hare and the Moon wisely shun the term on their Bandcamp page, rather citing their influences as M.R. James, Arthur Machen, and Black Sabbath, amongst others. This is actually a cassette edition of their second album issued by the ATSLA label in 2014, kindly sent to me by the man from ATSLA. It's a bit strange getting a cassette tape through the post in the year 2018, but strange in a good way because I prefer physical objects to things downloaded. I tend to appreciate music stored on physical media due to the greater effort expended in creating it, obtaining it or listening to it. Also, having spent the last couple of years digitising tapes from my own collection, some dating back to 1980, I have come to realise that reports of cassette tape as an unreliable, second rate medium have been grossly exaggerated. Of the hundreds of cassettes I've digitised so far, I have encountered no discernible reduction in sound quality, excepting on a couple of Memorex tapes, and Memorex were always shit so it's no big surprise. By contrast, I've lost count of the number of CDRs which have since degraded into digital slush.

Cassette tapes were a wonderful and democratic medium. Almost anyone could record something. They were cheap and easy to duplicate and to send to other people. One could listen to a cassette tape without requiring a fucking password or expensive glitch-prone technology. The odd one might get chewed up, but it was pretty rare if you kept your tape deck clean and stuck to decent quality tapes; and maybe they won't last forever, but most of them will probably last as long as you're alive and I don't know why anyone would need them to last longer.

So yes, this is a nice thing to have received in the post; and to finally get to the point, the Hare and the Moon tap into the folk tradition and the folklore of the British isles and its countryside without any of the bollocks I've grown to find so distasteful, or any of that whining about one's culture being under assault. I grew up in the British countryside, which was actually sort of terrifying. My childhood was spent within a stones throw of Meon Hill in Warwickshire, famed for witchcraft related murders having taken place in living memory; so as a child, the background noise of my existence was very much the sort of thing invoked by M.R. James and seen in The Wicker Man, which is why I now live in a city. The Hare and the Moon capture the rhythm of that world very well without necessarily sounding like an historical re-enactment of anything. Traditional instrumentation is here blended with the electronic to produce a fusion which reminds me a little of Eno's work with David Bowie; and so, something I might ordinarily have avoided turns out to defy expectations, and to provide a breath of very fresh air. Had neofolk been a bit more like this than how it mostly turned out, the world might have been a better place.

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