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On Haze and Murk and Your New Favorite Band

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by Alex V. Cook, Music Editor for outsideleft.com
originally published: September, 2005
The toward the end, subtle maracas and sleighs bell enter to augment this all too short interlude - I could listen to that song for hours.
by Alex V. Cook, Music Editor for outsideleft.com
originally published: September, 2005
The toward the end, subtle maracas and sleighs bell enter to augment this all too short interlude - I could listen to that song for hours.

Songs of Green Pheasant
Songs of Green Pheasant
(FatCat Records)

There is a fine line between haze and murk. Haze is light, ethereal, gauze-life, flattering, while murk is heavy and thick and encumbering. Both have their moments, and their abuses. Murk is what makes really heavy music, and sloppy garage epiphanies shine like the beacon they are, whereas haze can be like a swam of gnats, obstructing what you are trying to get at and just making a big mess - see Cocteau Twins for an example of this. But when you straddle that fine line, the results are glorious. Home recording, at least in the pre Pro-Tools era, which required an alchemist's touch with a dodgy 4-track, required heavily on that fine line. Sebadoh and Guided By Voices fought the two-headed murk-haze monster only to conceive perfect little fuzzy rock babies in the milieu. Galaxie 500 used it as hipster conduit to talk to God, while Kramer of Shimmy Disc back in the day went on a hiss fueled killing spree, slaying every laughing Buddha it met on the streets of Lower Manhattan.

Add to that number Sheffield's Duncan Sumpner and his haunting folk persona Songs of Green Pheasant, who are currently beguiling the fuck out of me. His self-duet vocals through a mile deep reverb tank sound like Simon and Garfunkel singing from the depths of memory. In fact, no act besides My Morning Jacket uses reverb as a songwriting partner as well as this. On "Burning Man" a finger picked guitar slowly cuts through the fog to turn into a clockwork radar bleep in the dark cold waters of Sumpner's vocal delivery. On other tracks like Knulp and the opener "I Am Daylights" his guitar work is closer to the front, giving his voice a little more room to breathe, but that reverb is there. Its no effect crutch here, but a bonafide instrument.

Strange percussive loops are also in his arsenal like the transcendent "Wraith of Loving" but mostly utilizes gentle guitar lines and chiming drones to build up these songs. A highlight for me is the centerpiece "Until... that dips and passes like John Fahey and has one of the sweetest guitar lines I've heard in a long time. The toward the end, subtle maracas and sleighs bell enter to augment this all to short interlude - I could listen to that song for hours.

His story mirrors that of stylistically similar US indie rock staple Sam Beam aka Iron and Wine: both operate under a nice but unwieldy moniker, have sweet hushed voices that make me wanna melt, are deft guitarists and both started out by dropping off a demo tape to hipster labels. Well, Iron and Wine has garnered the most deserving hype of the past decade, so if there is some cosmic justice, I'd love to hear Songs of Green Pheasant name checked as everyone's new favorite band.

Alex V. Cook
Music Editor

Alex V. Cook listens to everything and writes about most of it. His latest book, the snappily titled Louisiana Saturday Night: Looking for a Good Time in South Louisiana's Juke Joints, Honky-Tonks, and Dance Halls is an odyssey from the backwoods bars and small-town dives to the swampside dance halls and converted clapboard barns of a Louisiana Saturday Night. Don't leave Heathrow without it. His first book Darkness Racket and Twang is available from SideCartel. The full effect can be had at alex v cook.com

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