Andrew DR Abbott is an artist, musician, and writer based in the UK. You may know him from weird rhythmic noise/avant rock bands That Fucking Tank or NOPE. Dead In Chellow Dean is his debut full-length solo album which consists of a series of instrumental 8-string baritone acoustic guitar compositions which convey “a dark and disorientating journey through the beautifully derelict hinterlands of Bradford.”
Bradford is a postindustrial city in West Yorkshire which like many similar places in the UK tends to be portrayed as an urban cityscape dealing with multiple issues related to the decaying remnants of a dead industry. However, it’s actually surrounded by beautiful countryside which is part of the inspiration and subject matter of the album as Abbott references the likes of Heaton Woods, Daisy Hill, and Chellow Dean itself – a picturesque reservoir.
I can’t say I’m familiar with Bradford or any of Abbott’s previous output, but I can say I’ve never heard anything quite like Dead In Chellow Dean. It’s a kind of lo-fi contemporary folk music crossed with ambient soundscapes but coming from experimental rock roots. The arrangements are less about song and more about transcribing a scene and experience into something that’s still very musical. It’s not that the compositions are free-form or avant-garde; they’re perfectly balanced and totally engaging. This is one of the most beautiful, introspective collections of intricate acoustic guitar music you could ever hope to hear.
I don’t mean that it’s just another one of those mellow albums for quiet moments either. It’s a lot more than a collection of pleasant digressions. This is an immersive and compelling journey with a creative approach and deeply affecting outcome. It’s both joyful and dark, and it has moments which evoke wonder and wistfulness. Abbott conveys an emotive trip with mostly just one instrument, and his unique approach to technique, structure, and musicality all come together to form a powerful narrative.
The pieces here consist of thumb-picked bass lines which plot hypnotic rhythms and provide anchorage for sliding, finger-picked melodies that pulse and swirl. Contemplative motifs, delicate excursions, and a wild energy all lend themselves to the sense of a story being told. There’s a masterful, controlled tension and release as the pieces hang and swell while melody and rhythm are woven into an evocative musical exploration. At times it feels like the music is alive and breathing, like it takes a pause to think, it’s taken by surprise, or there’s a sense of growing excitement, but it consistently feels as if time is taken to observe and reflect. There’s surprise and awe and sadness, all communicated as part of a mini odyssey through Bradford’s hidden lands.
There’s a masterful, controlled tension and release as the pieces hang and swell while melody and rhythm are woven into an evocative musical exploration.
While I was listening I looked up a number of the locations featured in the song titles to try and give the music a bit of context, and I came across a news story of a young woman who drowned in Chellow Dean a few years ago. It may be that Abbott is referencing this tragedy with the album title, but either way the somber presence of loss looms heavily over the record. That’s not so say that the tone is brooding or laden with sadness. The defining sense of Dead In Chellow Dean is not stagnation but motion. It really feels like you’re passing through, taking it in, looking on and looking back – and it’s simply a joy to listen to.
You feel as if you’re in the Heaton Wild Woods for real in a celebration of wayward nature as rattling bass strings and excitable melody give way to a steady ordered pace that finds its way through. Daisy Hill Return has a twisting sense of foreboding to it, accompanied by flurried notes that sound like falling rain. Hill Top Mount Retreat is a melancholy rumination with a rising tension leading to eventual relief and resolution, while Chellow Dean Top feels like a reflection and reckoning of something deep and melancholy but restless. There are tracks that make you stop and dwell upon something greater than yourself, as well as moments of trepidation and fascination, and maybe even fun. Whatever’s going on there’s a constant energy that underpins each piece that suggests motion and travel alongside emotion and landscape.
The main pieces are broken up with segues of ambient field recordings, sparse guitar notes, home-made percussion, and a recurring mournful mouth organ that reminds me of Ennio Morricone Man With A Harmonica from the Once Upon A Time In The West Soundtrack. That sparse soundtrack feel is present throughout, and the ambient breaks would be the perfect score to something like 1970 BBC folk horror gem Robin Red Breast.
It’s amazing to me that something so minimal can be so immersive and alive. The melodies inhale and exhale, ponder and reflect, but they keep moving. There’s no sense of wallowing or wasting time here, and life goes on. We’re always in motion, taking it in and finding our way in a life-affirming celebration of person and place. It’s simply beautiful and I didn’t know it but it was something I sorely needed to hear. A genuine escape ideal for those in search of hidden gems.
Scribed by: Josuph Price