Lament and spell for a haunted Albion

(This text is the English translation of a review published in El Cuaderno.)

“Here lies our ancient future, Deep England: our hope and compassion in the chokehold of power and glory. Hand in hand, here we cry our rage: summoning a lament into the ether, a divine androgynous force, a transcendental purge of the dizzying chaos of post-truth Britain.”

This is the text Gazelle Twin and NYX have chosen as a presentation to their new album, Deep England, sequel and variation of Pastoral, published by the former in 2018.

In her early works, Gazelle Twin -moniker of Canterbury musician Elizabeth Bernhold- had explored brilliantly territories frequented by British avant-garde culture: if the body horror we found in many of her lyrics as an expression of anxieties rooted in dematerialisation and technology intrusion in our lives draw a straight line to J.G. Ballard, the dense atmospheres of her music fit perfectly with Mark Fisher’s writings on the weird and the eerie and his reinterpretation of derridian hauntology. It was indeed in Fisher’s blog and on his sound essay On Vanishing Land where I first found hints about Gazelle Twin.

In 2018 Pastoral was released. At that time Bernhold had left the city of Brighton and moved to the country. At the core of that record we can find the tension between that gesture -previously made by many British musicians and artists and documented by Rob Young in his unmissable essay Electric Eden- and the reality of a rural England deeply reactionary and nativist. In the messy context of Brexit propaganda, UKIP and Conservative ideologists had aborted the utopian and progressive reappropriation of English rural imaginary at the center of British counterculture in the second half of 20th century. Only ten years earlier, Broadcast had published Broadcast and The Focus Group Investigate Witch Cults of the Radio Age, an open and untroubled vindication of pagan England and folktales about witchcraft. However, two years after Brexit referendum, with the country obsessively immersed in a debate on its identity, Gazelle Twin’s record had to take the shape of a raucous and furious rant against the epic of national-populist nostalgia. The Arcadia claimed by a musical tradition from Fairport Convention and Pentangle to Talk Talk and Kate Bush has become a theme park sponsored by Wetherspoons and Waitrose where English unemployed workers keep themselves entertained hunting the continental immigrant and the oligarchy can play Downtown Abbey.

The cover of the album was a statement of intents: under a yellow box that quotes roughly Deutsche Grammophon logo, we can see a painted landscape taken from Gainsborough or Constable where Gazelle Twin plays a recorder dressed as a jester in Adidas red and baseball cap.

The record is an album as brutal as effective: Bernhold delivers a pudding of minced English culture amalgamated by a rusty mass of electronic noise. Any reference to an idyllic state of nature reveals itself as a simulacrum and is drowned under the violent drive of nativist and neonationalist ideology.

***

This week Gazelle Twin has released a new album, both a sequel and a series of variations on Pastoral. Deep England is born from her collaboration with NYX, a female choir working with extended vocal techniques and electronic manipulation of human voice. Their style is influenced by Meredith Monk and Holly Herndon.

Deep England offers new recordings of several themes from Pastoral, but deeply transformed. Among the new tracks, there is a version of Jerusalem, Hubert Parry’s hymn from a poem by William Blake, icon of English metaphysical supremacism, and a cover of Fire Leap, a dance from The Wicker Man’s soundtrack. For most of the new album, angular rhythms and rough textures have been replaced by vocal and electronic drones that seem a lullaby. However, it is pretty obvious that as soon as we are asleep nightmares will be waiting for us. If 2018 record was the expression of an angry answer to a country always more closed and self-centered, here we are deeply sunken in post-Brexit England psychosphere. The forces politicians unleashed are now out of control and the entire country is haunted, submerged un a horrible and heavy nightmare.

The most amazing thing about Deep England, as the introductory text suggests, is that precisely from the bottom of this identity nightmare Gazelle Twin and NYX are starting to build up. This album is a lament but at the same time is also a spell and a prayer. The risky proposal consists in invoking the same forces that keep the country haunted and cross the bad dream riding them. It is a sign of our times that the darkes possible album is also the one that holds a seed of hope.

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