Wednesday, 9 February, 2022 in Music

Into Album Reviews: David Lance Callahan – English Primitive 1

Artist: David Lance Callahan 
Album: English Primitive 1

One of late 2021’s highlights for me.

Callahan’s band The Wolfhounds are one of the rare breads of acts whose later sound got better but is almost unrecognisable from their early work. After being brought to wider attention by their inclusion on the Year Zero NME ‘Indie’ C86 compilation, they evolved dramatically from their jangly beginnings into one of the truly fascinating independent bands of the late 80s and early 90s, still continuing into this century with each release becoming fascinatingly more experimental.

My first experience of The Wolfhounds actually was while working as a Christmas temp at Our Price in the early 1990s. I remember being asked by an elderly lady looking for a Wolfe Tones album for her husband’s Christmas present. Being then unfamiliar with Irish Folk and rebel music I assumed it was The Wolfhounds she’d meant, so dismissing her concerns around the name, I managed to convince her to buy this band’s latest noisy offering. I’d love to know what her husband thought.

Perhaps though there may have been more of a connection between these two similarly named bands than I initially thought, other than wolfhound dogs being Irish.

While perhaps not exactly inspired by The Wolfe Tones, David’s album certainly has dark, English Folk influences aplenty which was a huge and very welcome surprise for me.  I’ve long been a fan of the very open to interpretation catch-all term, Acid Folk. More specifically its more niche variant encapsulated by bands such as Comus and the first Steeleye Span album. There’s something beautifully mysterious about that music – the lyrical themes of black dogs, wraiths, hauntings, hangings and general rural misfortune seem to neatly compliment the equally dark and minimal music. 

This album is no throwback or hipster pastiche as typified by the US Wyrd-Folk scene of the mid 2000’s. This is something that to me appears to reference the deep importance of the tradition the music is based on with reverence, understanding and its own innovation. The approach is amazingly refreshing.  If Thurston Moore had joined Steeleye Span along with Martin Carthy, and if perhaps John Coltrane was there to help out a little, you’d get some idea of where this album takes you – blistering freak-out guitar that dives in and out of the beautiful melodies. Foxyboy is a particular highlight of this for me. But there is also some achingly sad minimalism too, often with just a deceptively simple guitar tone and voice that clearly has studied the form well.  Drones play an important part in this record too which is another welcome addition and it’s very pleasing to hear a little hint of Nico’s phenomenal Marble Index. More records need this.

Beautiful is a word that accurately describes much of the music on this album but with a qualifier that it is a particular form of beauty reserved for those who find beauty in shadowy moonlit glades, swamps lit with corpse-lights, ghostly hellhounds on lonely roads and music filled with dark drones, discord and bleakness.  I do.

What is most exciting is the album is labelled as Volume 1, so I’m hoping that this means a second offering is in the pipeline.

English Primitive is available on LP, CD and Digital download: Bandcamp

Grant McPhee

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