Review: Alison Cotton ‘Only Darkness Now’

Having surfaced initially as a cassette only release (Bloxham Tapes) and now manifesting in vinyl form (Cardinal Fuzz and Feeding Tube Records), the music contained on Alison Cotton‘s second album possesses a kind of unearthliness that makes it a wonder it can be contained in any physical format at all. Rooted in folk but filtered through drone and almost dark ambient shades, it seems perfect that  the LP version arrives just after Halloween. This music is designed for darker days filled with dying trees and fading lights.

Alison Cotton 'Only Darkness Now'

Utilising her voice, violin, viola and omnichord to create the elemental feel that underpins these five pieces of music, there are moments in the songs that feel like they’re from another time and place entirely. In the case of one that’s kind of true: Shirt Of Lace is an age old ballad popularised more recently by late US musician Dorothy Carter on her 1976 Troubadour album. While it’s the Carter version that might be the inspiration for Cotton’s own treatment, her reading of the song blossoms from the glowing embers of a dying sustained chord in a far more mournful and personal manner. It sounds as if Cotton is singing from the bottom of an abandoned well.

This music is designed for darker days filled with dying trees and fading lights…

Even in the two briefest moments here – In Solitude I Will Fade Away and The Hill Was Hollow both clock in under two minutes – are deeply evocative, freezing time and immediately putting one in mind of a twilit rainy countryside. While not sinister as such, there is an archaic and rural darkness to the entire album that makes it feel very much like it could soundtrack the calmer moments of some lost folk horror movie. Behind The Spiderweb Gates is twenty minutes of  sustained melancholy that it’s impossible to remain unmoved by. Cotton’s layering of instrumentation here, the slow but ever forward movement, is masterful.

Perhaps one of the starkest records of 2020, which isn’t saying much given it’s been a pretty fucking bleak year, Only Darkness Now is the musical justification of the old adage that ‘Misery Loves Company’. For all the sorrow contained within, it feels strangely familiar and comforting. The darkness at the core of the music is humane rather than predatory; How My Heart Bled In Bleeding Heart Yard conveys wordlessly a kind of universal woe that we can all take shelter in.

In truth, this is music that feels like it has just always been there, out in the ether from time immemorial waiting to be heard. How lucky we are that we have Alison Cotton to channel it for us.

Label: Cardinal Fuzz Records | Feeding Tube Records | Bloxham Tapes
Band Links: Facebook | Bandcamp | Twitter | Instagram

Scribed by: Jamie Grimes