spirit blues, reverb sea: chrissie caulfield on banana pill & tch

January 22, 2015 at 8:54 pm | Posted in new music, no audience underground | Leave a comment
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Banana Pill & TCH – Room 316 (CD, Jozik Records, JT001)


[Editor’s note: the first of our new writers out of the blocks is Chrissie Caulfield.  Perhaps best known ’round these parts as one half of RFM faves Helicopter Quartet, Chrissie is no slouch as a solo artist and has a knowledge of the technical aspects of playing and recording music that I find, frankly, terrifying.  Good job she’s so lovely and charmingly self-deprecating about it too, eh?  I’m delighted to welcome her aboard.  Now y’all shush because she wants to tell us something.  Over to Chrissie:]

I first encountered Tim Holehouse (alias TCH) at a Hogwash gig in Leeds. I have a little bit of an aversion to acoustic guitars – they being mainly the preserve of the dreaded ’singer-songwriter’ – so I was nervous when he took the stage with one and also a vocal microphone. However, he immediately dispelled my fears by producing a gorgeous soundscape with just that instrument and his voice that swept me away into new sonic territory.

This particular CD was sent to me as an addition to the boxed set of Tim Holehouse’s live gigs that I ordered from him later on. It is literally a branded wooden box containing several CDs and a DVD which I hope to have time to review in detail later. This ‘extra’ CD is from a live gig with Tim himself on acoustic guitar and Finnish drone duo Banana Pill on violin, voice and percussion.

The core of the album is reverb-drenched guitar. Now you won’t hear me say anything bad about reverb, I love it and it’s on this recording in abundance. It’s not clear to me how much is from the room they were playing in and how much is from effects boxes but why should I care? It sounds luscious.

Track 1, ‘Komhata 316’, opens with simmering, rattling guitar and some strange unidentifiable percussion, loads of delay and reverb making it sound like a strange metallic sea lapping over you. Turn this up and it feels like you’re being engulfed by a dystopian WALL-E style future where polluted oceans glint with metal debris. Around this wash wails a voice and a violin in its middle registers, further away, unreachable, like ghosts in a shipwreck you can’t see. It’s beautifully unsettling. The vocals here are vaguely reminiscent of The Kilimanjaro Darkjazz Ensemble at their most ambient. The tension builds very slowly, waxing and waning with other percussion coming in and out, but rather than overwhelm you it collapses into squeaks and then we’re just left with the wailing which fades.

The second track, ‘Room 316’, opens with electric guitar drone and acoustic guitar strings being plucked instead of gently jangled – it’s like the spirit of John-Lee Hooker warming up. The voices higher up now, even more ethereal. The pinging plucks get more frequent and the violin joins in as the instruments eventually emerge from the fog to drop you into a closing slide guitar solo, reminding you that Tim is also an accomplished blues guitarist, and if (deity forbid) you wanted a break from the clangy drones on offer here and fancy some Tom Waits-y blues, you don’t even have to leave his company.

To rub this in, ‘Huone 316’, the next track, opens with a guitar ostinato which, if played through a lot more distortion, wouldn’t be out of place in a 70s rock song, though without all of our beloved reverb of course! Alongside this emerges the violin again, playing a gentle riff over and over. This is almost acoustic Helicopter Quartet territory though I doubt we’d keep it going this long. That’s our loss as this never gets boring, there are enough subtle shifts of texture to keep you interested for the duration here. There are low drones that waft in and out, and the gentle vocal wailings interleaving with the violin line beautifully. All of a sudden, near the end, the sounds get darker, the loops are reversed and the whole edifice unwinds in front of your ears.

The closing track, ‘Rums 316’, starts out as a guitar duet but, though made of bluesy material, is not rock, of course. This is a much gentler piece than the others, more laid back with the menace it contains added by the wailing violin, voices and the occasional use of reversed loops and feedback delays. The vocals and guitar mix here is reminiscent of Southend duo Lost Harbours though with added clanks and scrapes for good measure. Again, there is a gentle build up of volume and tension that is highly unsettling, listening to this in a dark room is only recommended if you’re in a stable state of mind. When the end comes it’s not quite the blessed relief you wanted but a conditional release.  You’ll be back.

This is a delight of a disc, and I’m going to be exploring more of Banana Pill in the future I think. There is sadness here too, in a way. Tim is no longer performing as TCH so the recordings we have, and there are quite a few of them luckily, are all there will be. Musicians have to move on of course, and we wish him well in his future projects.


Buy here.

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