(All Album Reviews by Epilepticgibbon)
Reigns are a duo consisting of Tim and Roo Farthing (otherwise known as operatives A and B) and Styne Vallis is their second album. I’ve not yet heard their first album, We Lowered A Microphone Into The Ground, which came out a year or two ago, so I’ve only got the content of this one to go on.
On the basis of this release you might very well describe the music of Reigns as an experimental cross between electronica, folk rock and post rock, and if you did then you’d pretty much match my attempts to categorise their style. Another soundbite that I came up with was, ‘how the French duo Air might sound if they were commissioned to provide the music for an arty horror film’ and whilst that is a gross oversimplification of the kind of music Reigns have produced here, I don’t feel it’s an entirely unreasonable summary either (though Reigns are not particularly French-sounding – this album definitely has a very British atmosphere to it). But Reigns have done something rather old-fashioned; they’ve produced a concept album.
Now, before you run off in fright at the mere thought of such a thing, here’s the concept itself: the album is based around the legend of a lost village (the Styne Vallis of the album’s title) which you can read up on in the CD booklet. Apparently the village was evacuated in 1970 before being flooded to make way for a reservoir but unfortunately the water became stagnant and toxic, and despite all attempts to clean and filter it this pattern continued to repeat itself making the area unusable. The mythology surrounding the village suggests a link between the toxicity of the water and the inhabitants’ reputation prior to the flooding – apparently crime, incest and alcoholism were rife in Styne Vallis!
The CD booklet is entitled “Salvage Inventory” and it details strange artefacts recovered from the banks of the would-be reservoir by operatives A and B, including fragments of the sinister Styne Vallis hymn book. Eerie stuff then and not surprisingly this spooky spirit is reflected in the music itself, which includes spoken excerpts from the hymn book and samples that are apparently field recordings taken from the Styne Vallis site.
The end result is something that balances precariously between beautiful and soothing ambienty post rock music, on the one hand, and on the other, quite spooky, even menacing messages from the other side. Thankfully then, the album never descends into easy listening or background music... it could easily do so in the sense that there’s a lot of “pretty” material to be heard here, but it’s always fleshed out by ghostly and/or computer-manipulated voices, eerie electronics and glitches, white noise, and consistently intriguing composition.
If such a thing is possible, the album maintains a palpable sense of ambiguity, telling the story of a place that has fallen between the cracks, existing in a world between the living and the dead, between the real and the imagined. The music persistently reminds us of this with material that can be best described as ethereal, enchanting, or just plain weird. But it’s not a difficult album, as such, more mildly challenging and always consistently interesting. It’s part of the album’s central paradox that it’s able to remind you of dark, damp and scary places one moment, whilst making you feel safe, protected and warm the next (the latter being particularly true on the beautiful track “Divorcee”).
Earlier I made comparisons to Air, but at times Mogwai or Sigur Ros would be more appropriate and the music is certainly as well constructed (or perhaps unearthed would be a better term to describe this particular process) as anything either of those two bands has produced.
Ultimately this is a highly intriguing concept for an album and strikingly the musical content is just as interesting, atmospheric and otherworldly throughout.
Best tracks: “The Lost Black Mass Footage”, “Wedding of Weed and Dead Weed”, “Revised Map of the British Isles”, “Spore Regent”, “Divorcee”.