Hazel Steps Through A Weathered Home

by In Gowan Ring (2002, Lune)

In Gowan Ring’s B’eirth is certainly an effusive fellow.  If the “fever dream by way of Austin Osman Spare” nature of his lyrics wasn’t evidence enough, just wait until you see how In Gowan Ring’s self-styled “Conductor” describes his own music.  For some, Hazel Steps Through A Weathered Home will merely be a spaced out folk album of gauzy acoustic guitars, Renaissance Fair backing bands, and B’eirth’s fey vocals.  However, it’s obviously much more to him, a “liminal lucubration of specular poetry composed within a euphonious and eclectic arrange of acoustic, archaic, and homespun instruments.”

I guess that’s as good a definition as any, especially given that “lucubration” means “pedantic or pretentious writing”.  And “pretentious” is a pretty good start to describing Hazel Steps Through A Weathered Home.  However, B’eirth pours himself so completely into his pretenses that they contain his whole heart and soul, as hinted at by “lucubration”‘s other definition: “laborious study or meditation”.

For me, “psychedelic folk” has all sorts of pretense, be it the seriously silly lyrics or the music, which sounds like it was written by people who sincerely wish they’d been gypsies in a previous life (or residents of Middle-Earth).  But confound it all if In Gowan Ring actually takes that fairly ephemeral genre and provides it with as concrete an example as possible (even more completely, I’d argue, than movers and shakers within the genre such as Current 93).

In Gowan Ring’s The Glinting Spade is as beautiful as any psych-folk album can be without completely materializing.  By it’s very nature, there must be an otherworldly quality to the music, or else it ceases being, well, psychedelic.

Hazel Steps Through A Weathered Home lacks many of the droney, ambient elements that were so entrancing about The Glinting Spade.  As a whole, it’s a more stripped down effort.  However, that doesn’t really diminish the album’s preternatural feel.  Much of that is due to B’eirth’s vocals and lyrics.  B’eirth’s wispy voice is always barely there, as if it’s made of little more than spiderwebs and moonlight.

But such a voice would be useless without equally obtuse lyrics, which In Gowan Ring has in spades.  B’eirth sees no problem in singing lines like “Petals of jasmine, anemones in a water bowl float/How grace arranged the chance array come eventide’s shifting glow” or “Shimmers splendent merge, laden tendrils waver/Descending drops of water disperse in lucid layer” with all due gravity.  Don’t be surprised if you feel like you need a refresher course on Romantic poetry before delving into B’eirth’s flowery prose.

As I said before, Hazel Steps Through A Weathered Home is missing some of The Glinting Spade‘s more atmospheric elements.  However, that only reveals the lovely arrangements of B’eirth and his various conspirators for all to see.  Acoustic guitars are eminent, plucking out delicate melodies upon melodies.  But citterns, cimboloms, timbrels, flutes, and other “acoustic, archaic, and homespun instruments” all make their appearance.  The songs are much starker and darker than on The Glinting Spade, but they also have more gravity and substance.

“Hazel Steps”‘s is about as solemn as the album gets, like Nick Drake on a funeral march set to a bodhran beat.  Meanwhile, “The Wind That Cracks The Leaves” feels caught in a slowly constricting web, an interplay of picked acoustic guitars and a chorus of B’eirths all caught in a slow, downward spiral.  The lovely thing is that despite its pretensions, or more likely because of them, that spiral can easily ensnare the unsuspecting listener in its magical folds.