Welsh Connection · Album review
Artist : The Cosmic Array
Title : Islands (Folkwit Records F0131, 2016)
The dozen tracks that make up ‘Islands’ are of such exquisite beauty that we hoped the album would never end……….but we found the perfect solution – just play it all over again ! And that’s something you will definitely want to do time after time.
There’s a wild west theme running through the album, and this off-beat collection of Americana is the perfect soundscape to an Arizona skyline or coasting along the highway with the top down. Odd snippets of dialogue ebb and flow throughout the songs adding to the mysterious flavour of ‘Islands’ – parts are reminiscent of Nilsson at his very best, others touch upon Townes Van Zandt and Gram Parsons but each song is very much the brainchild of one of our best kept secrets – the hugely talented Paul Battenbough ! Joined by long time collaborators Andy Fung, Huw Rees, Mat Wigley (who also produces) and Danny Kilbride – plus, Jon Coward, Abby Sohn, John Elvis Berry & Frank Naughton, together they have made an album that is both musically complete and thought provoking, full of strange & weird noises which just add to the whole experience.
‘Islands’ is not just an album of great music, it’s a wondrous, magical, musical journey from beginning to end. Did we mention the artwork ? In a time when album sleeves have become mundane, to say the least, this one jumps out at you. It’s just so full of life and fits the music inside so well. Again, all the work of Paul Battenbough ! If you want to find out more about The Cosmic Array contact Paul via Facebook and check out their page. Highlights : ‘Theory Of Flight’, ‘All I Am’, ‘Dear Ones’, ‘Fire Up The Sky’ and ‘Islands’.
The Cosmic Array
Anything which is released on Folkwit Records gets the thumbs up from me. The Cosmic Array retrun with their second album, the line up boosted to nine players contributing to the songs in various combinations and bolstered on this album by American singer-songwriter and resident of South Wales, Abby Sohn.
The music comes housed in a cover which looks like a blend of Roger Dean’s famous floating islands and Monty Python/Terry Gliiam style cut and pasting in a vaguely Dali style. Get the idea? The music follows a similar path with their sci-fi themed alt country/Americana influences. Not a bad description really if you’re trying to pop The Cosmic Array into a pigeon hole, but immediately regret trying to do so as a whole compendium of sounds and textures washes over you.
First impressions are that this is an album you want to get out right at his time of year – the start of Spring and then pack away for the winter months. It has that open airy sort of feel that has to be the soundtrack of lazy and balmy days(or as near as dammit, bearing in mind the English weather). From ‘All I Am’ opening the album, there’s the relaxed sort of shuffling rhythm and gently picked acoustic guitars you get from a band like Stornoway alongside the first of several appearances of pedal steel which always gives a song that tranquil and casual vibe. ‘Fire Up The Sky’ moves into more dream pop territory
More genre denying than genre defining – by the time ‘Drones’ has finished its journey of electronic and industrial noisescape, there can’t be too many boxes which haven’t been ticked; travelling through the tender and sensitive to the psychedelic influenced distortion of ‘Sea Of Tranquility’ (not what you’d glean from the song title) and then the lo-fi loose arrangement lounge jazz jam of ‘Comely Angel’. Any attempt to accuse ‘Islands’ of lacking variety gets washed out on a tide of soothing synths.
With founder member and main guitarist/vocalist Paul Battenbough taking charge of the vast majority of songwriting while production and mixing duties are taken care of by keyboard player Mat Wigley, the band are pretty self sufficient. Not only that, they seem to be pleasing themselves with what they do, which is probably what matters most, and have assembled a set of songs which is a real experience.
‘Islands’ from The Cosmic Array – a ‘Marmite album’ if ever there was one
(March 16, 2016)
Multiple spins downrange and I’m still confused by ‘Islands’ from The Cosmic Array. There’s certainly a sizeable slice of prog-psych soundscape, perhaps some Americana – quite a lot from time to time; that’s joined by some folky influences and acoustic cuts mixed with late sixties synths and weird soundbites. And still I’m searching for ‘le mot juste’ to describe ‘Islands’ it’s as difficult as herding cats or folding gravy. In the end it’s best to just let it wash over your ears and go with the flow.
There’s going to be division over this one; those that love, those that hate, and the perplexed. This is certainly a ‘Marmite album’ if ever there was one. Perhaps some will find a connection but many may have to search for it. Some will turn off rather than persevere, and that’s a shame because in its own confusing way ‘Islands’ pays off in the end. ‘All I Am’ opens with its ethereal embrace before ‘Fire Up The Sky’ takes a more tenuous step towards psychedelia, ‘Kathmandu’ offers echoing vocals and meandering instrumentation, ’Sea of Tranquility’ is anything but tranquil with its distorted guitars, ‘Dear Ones’ provides a quiet piece of reflection with vocals drifting over a subtle musical weave, and the instrumental ‘Drone’ is exactly that. Not an easy listen but there is a certain attraction.
The Cosmic Array is Paul Battenbough (guitar, keys, Spanish guitars, piano, banjo, wah wah guitar, feedback guitars, strings, organ, vocals) joined by Andy Fung (bass) Huw Rees (drums) Mat Wigley (synths, sounds, saw, percussion, harmonica) Danny Kilbride (bass) Jon Coward (guitar) Abby Sohn (vocals) John Elvis Berry (pedal steel) and Frank Naughton (Maui xaphoon).
‘Islands’ is due April 2016 on Folkwit Recordings.
The first album ‘The Cosmic Array’
Mudkiss online fanzine review
The Cosmic Array S/T (Folkwit Records)
In a house that lies halfway up a steep hill in the middle of Swansea lives a very nice man named Huw Rees, and in the basement of that house he has built a studio, and in that studio over the years has recorded countless local artists and bands, including many of his own (notably folk-rock titans The Rag Foundation).
And of these many bands the latest to release an album is The Cosmic Array, comprised of a number of notable local musicians, not least Paul Battenbough, who wrote all of the songs on it. The Cosmic Array claim, for want of a better description, to be peddling “psych country songs”, but they know as well as the listener does that the songs are country only in the broadest sense, for example one where Jimmy Reed has been transported into the future and, left alone in an an abandoned space station, plucks a lonely guitar refrain, past despair and now approaching some form of collaterally-damaged cowpoke catharsis.
If this peculiar analysis were based only on the opening track, it would be enough, for “Story of My Life” resembles nothing so much as Syd Barrett brought up in Boise, Idaho. In the style beloved of Midwestern arrested teens, the song ambles friendly-like, all alt.-state. Pretty – and pretty weird – it supplies a reliable guide to what expect thereafter. Cowpoking joking aside, this s a fine album. “Rangefinder” recalls two of the Eighties outstanding alt.rock bands, Dumptruck and American Music Club, its languid chording and weird-weary vocal refrains a lullaby by other means.
The title track, as Dylan might put it, looks like it’s moving but it’s standing still. “Living Is Like Some Kind of Dream”, in parts – and much to my chagrin – perfects the kind of laconic Lou Reed delivery I have been trying in vain to mimic for years. And “Perfect Falcon”, replete with fancy (synth?) strings and junk, is a somewhat delicate acoustic instrumental, slight but slick. The album finishes on “Twelve Motorcycles”, an exercise in “Pink Floyd Lite”, building in five minutes from succinct to mildly psychotic with, to quip Chuck, “no particular place to go”.
The spontaneous and ragtag origins of their album are worn on the sleeve, making “The Cosmic Array” the emotional equivalent of that old Levis jacket you wear less often now but love even more. I”The Cosmic Array” is raw, alive and alone in the endzone. It won’t let you down.
Review by Jeremy Gluck
Friday, 27 June 2014
Recorded in a fit of creativity in just a few short days of activity, the debut album from the Cosmic Array (the nom-de-rock of Swansea songwriter Paul Battenbough), the low key and rugged sound of this impressive record imbibes the vague paw print of Pavement’s style of skewed alt-rock all over it. As such, “The Story of my Life” and “Rangefinder” are awash with brilliantly wonky melody, chiming guitars, atmosphere and darkly shaded beauty that beg repeating.
The more alt-country and “Americana” influenced moments here naturally hint at the frayed soul and honesty, melodicism, and atmospheric questing of prime Wilco; which is not a compliment to let go without deliberation, but is fair here. Battenbough’s melodies and thoughtful lyrics are also worthy of the comparison. Elsewhere, “Living is Like Some Kind of Dream” is something akin to the Arcade Fire misplaced in a sweaty blues club, while “New Years Eve” is a woozy and oddly beautiful hymn of haunting and discord.
This excellent record is a thing of definite, if expertly tarnished, splendour. The thoughtful and accomplished songs are undeniably sharp, and a joy from beginning to end, which expertly embraces both the light and the shade of alt-rock, a sense of modern folk, country and beyond. Recommended.