Waterless Hills are predominantly Andrew Cheetham and feature dbh on violin, augmented by Gavin Clarke (DSDV) on bass and Cambridge-based Avant-folk musician C Joynes on electric guitar. According to the promotional notes, the album was recorded in one day direct to 1/4” tape at Hallé St Michaels, Manchester. The tracks are improvised, and the album is closely paired with Waterless Hills debut 8” Lathe released back in November 2019. That release shares a similar motif both visually and sonically and has been featured on Stuart Maconie’s Freakzone. Say what you like about Maconie and his, at times somewhat dry, obsession with Northern England, he does at least focus on music that wouldn’t be played anywhere else.
Opening track The Untidy Country Of Glaring Limestone is a mellow piece with middle eastern sounding textures. It threatens to explode into an early Mogwai style freak out but never does. The Law Of Hospitality continues the middle Eastern vibe with guitar and violin accompanying each other nicely, this is highlighted in the promotional notes stating, ‘the tapes document a slowly-evolving interplay and, at times, ‘on-the-edge’ exchange between the players’. The drums also have a bit more punch than on the opening track.
As the album progresses it become clear we are dealing with an intellectual outfit, the song titles and the results of the recording are ‘shaped into an imaginary soundtrack to an orientalist western loosely themed around Freya Stark’s 1935 travelogue The Valleys of the Assassins’. The book chronicles Stark’s 1934 travels into Luristan, which is the mountainous terrain between Iraq and present-day Iran, and listening to this record you can visualize her with a sari headscarf journeying on a camel. The music also sounds like it could belong on Lawrence of Arabia, continuing the idea of the westerner travelling into unknown territory. The artwork is by British artist and occultist Ithel Colquhoun and is a mountain landscape capture in a surrealist style.
The Squatted By The Tank In The Light Of A Lantern (what a title eh?), has an odd drum pattern that reminds me of Jefferson Airplane’s White Rabbit, denoting that both this track, and the album as a whole, has a Psychedelic flavour to it…
We hit the halfway mark with a jaunty number by the name of The Garden Of The Tribe, which provides the album with a nice interlude and change of pace, before leading back into familiar territory with yet more middle eastern influenced Post-Rock on An Insect Which Eats The Moon. The Squatted By The Tank In The Light Of A Lantern (what a title eh?), has an odd drum pattern that reminds me of Jefferson Airplane’s White Rabbit, denoting that both this track, and the album as a whole, has a Psychedelic flavour to it.
The Ghost Of One In The Darkness is another pleasant musical interlude at just over a minute long and leads into the closing track The Eastern Side Of Walantar, which reminded me of some of the soundtrack music on David Lynch’s Straight Story, with its Midwestern America aura. This was probably my favourite track on the album.
To conclude, I must admit that this was not an easy listen and the ponderous song titles and challenging Post-Rock, wrapped up in a loose concept album will not appeal to everyone. I imagine that readers of the Wire Magazine and attendees of Supersonic Festival would find quite a bit of merit in this. For me, I found it (in parts) interesting, my chief criticism would be directed at the lack of musical variety and thus for me it meandered. I’m no musical barbarian, I listen to John Coltrane and Merzbow for fun and this album does have a lot of positives, but taken as a whole, it failed to really resonate with me.
Scribed by: Reza Mills