15 Sep 2014
Album Review: The Ilk "The New Dark Age"
Reviewed by Grey Malkin (The Hare & The Moon)
This writer recalls The Ilk from the olden days of MySpace (confused younger readers may want to ask an older sibling) where their strange, yet beautiful creations appeared both mysteriously and frequently, delighting fans such as myself. Indeed, having been making music in the shadows for a number of years, The Ilk remain almost a total enigma; are they a band, is one person behind all of this or are they a collective of musicians? The mystery is both enticing and only adds flavour to the oddness and charm of their music.
Their new opus "The New Dark Age" (appearing seemingly out of nowhere yet very much welcome) is a veritable feast of instrumental psychedelia and wyrd folk with a healthy seasoning of the best of seventies prog. It is also a thing of great beauty and wonder; it boggles the mind that music of this quality should be so relatively obscure and free to obtain (as it is on Bandcamp). Were it released in 1972 on say, Harvest Records, this album would now be spoken about in hallowed terms amongst fans and collectors.
Opener "On Ilkley Moor/ The New Dark Age" is a fourteen minute instrumental epic which, with its perfectly executed harpsichord, bells, finger picked acoustics and swathes of mellotron, brings to mind Mike Oldfield’s seminal "Hergest Ridge" and "Ommadawn". Instantly alive with what seems like several heartbreaking and ever so slightly sinister melodies at once the track shifts gear from rustic electronic splendour to fuzz guitar psyche-outs then into a brass interlude! Although there are many hints at prog with the shifting time signatures and reccurring motifs, this recalls more the dark whimsy of the Canterbury Scene, the offbeatness of Kevin Ayers, the sense of theme and drama of Mike Oldfield and the quaint English village elements of Caravan. It is at once breathtaking, otherworldly and deeply atmospheric. Indeed some of the parts would not be out of place soundtracking a seventies children's TV show such as "Children Of The Stones" or "The Owl Service"; there is a distinct sense of time and place to this album that is of the other, of a partially remembered memory of the past with its sepia colours and vintage sounds. Various analogue synths and slide guitar lead the song to a melancholy close, reminding this listener of "Ummagumma" era Floyd. As opening tracks go, it is ambitious yet hugely bewitching. The sheer creativity and ideas involved might be distracting were it not for the music being so timeless, effortlessly melodic and evocative.
"A Ghost Story for Summer" similarly sets out its stall with a carnivalesque organ waltz; a village fête or traveling fairground of sinister intention, filled with unsettling, wailing guitar and bells. The song’s truly haunting finale is a triumph; soaring church organ and recorder evoking a rural England now gone, the ghostly plainsong of something hidden and ancient. If the island band in "The Wicker Man" had invested in a couple of vintage synths rather than fiddle and guitar then the soundtrack to that film might have sounded like this. There is a hauntological element to The Ilk, a nostalgic sense to their music that will appeal to listeners of the Ghost Box label and bands such as Broadcast or The Advisory Circle. Indeed, "Powerplant", with its motorik, analogue heartbeat is an exhilarating race through Belbury Poly territory with foreboding bells and chimes combining with the sound of accelerating engines screaming below. It is quite simply one of the most exciting tracks I have heard this year. "Off Hogbens's Hill" opens with choir of mellotron angels, xylophone picking out a melancholy melody until some Persuaders-style harpsichord enters, adding a genuine air of unease and mystery to the track. Zither punctuates the cascading notes and melody; someone hire this band for the soundtrack of Ben Wheatley's next film, it would be a perfect fit. The song ends in a haze of sepia, vintage keyboards and John Barry intrigue.
Final track "Living by the Water"s bucolic bells, cymbal sweeps, off-kilter guitar blasts and demented merry-go-round comes over as a potential alternative theme song for macabre TV classic "Tales of the Unexpected". Genuinely disturbing in parts, its manic polka suggesting "Something Wicked This Way Comes" crossed with composer Lubos Fiser's finest moments. Indeed there is a sense of the gothic carnival of such Czech New Wave films as "Valerie and Her Week of Wonders" that fits well with The Ilk's music; complex, unusual and strange yet also curiously beautiful and entrancing.
I cannot recommend this highly enough. It can be frustrating when you hear something so good that you fear it will not reach the ears of the many who will clearly adore it. Do not let this happen; The New Dark Age is here, embrace it with open arms.
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