released January 12, 2012
After 2007’s Gyllyng Street, Songs of Green Pheasant (aka Duncan Sumpner) disappeared. Which, in hindsight, didn’t seem all that surprising: Sumpner’s dreamy, psych-y folk-pop was so ephemeral that it seemed kind of fitting for him to fade away. But, five years later, Sumpner has returned with a new collection of songs titled Soft Wounds, and it’s as if the intermediate years never happened. Chalk it up to his music’s “unstuck in time” quality.
“Teen Wolf” opens Soft Wounds on a note of disconnection as Sumpner sings “Looking down on oak trees like a pilot” backed by a delicate lattice of acoustic guitar, percussion, and lonesome trumpet. At times, his voice, wrapped in reverbed harmonies, threatens to drift away — as if he’s having some lingering doubts about returning after all these years and wants to disappear again. But thankfully, the album, and Sumper, stays with us, with lovely results. For example, “Deaf Sarah” is an effortless pop song that picks up where The Clientele left off with their last album: it begs to be listened to while walking down the street, jacket hood turned up to keep out the autumn chill, and watching the leaves drift down from the trees high overhead.
“Mirror” is the album’s emotional crux, as Sumpner plaintively asks “Little one, why are you standing so far away?” over sparse piano notes. But the one he addresses may no longer be with us: “The sun sinks on the graves/Where all the kids died of boredom/It’s not real,” he sighs. Drones and trumpet add to a sense of loss and alienation while the lyrics grow more surreal (“All the faces in the windows turn to mine in silence”) as “Mirror” builds towards its climax. Actually, “climax” may be the wrong word given the song’s gentle dénouement; Sumpner simply ends up singing “It’s alright,” but given his music’s fragility, the sense of resignation/acceptance may be enough.
If “Mirror” is Soft Wounds’ emotional crux, then the multi-part, 9+ minute “Flesheaters” is its aesthetic one. In many ways, with its diversity of moods and sounds, the song feels like an EP or album in and of itself — especially when compared to the brevity that characterizes much of his music. It also feels like a rough sketch at times, with Sumpner mumbling in the background as if still working out his lyrics. The song’s latter half is when it all comes together, literally: he strips the song down and slowly builds it back up using layers of ghostly vocals, drones, guitars, drums, and violin. The process is quite engrossing.
I understand why some might dismiss Songs of Green Pheasant’s music. Songs like “Deaf Sarah,” “Mirrors,” and “Flesheaters” are fey, slight, and “barely there,” and Sumpner makes no effort to make his music more “gritty” or “earthy” (though Soft Wounds does seem more stripped down than its predecessors). Any of his songs can easily sink into the background, and indeed, they seem most comfortable there. But Soft Wounds proves, once again, that Sumpner’s music possesses an uncanny ability to emerge from the background when you least expect it to and pierce you through with some well-placed melody or bit of atmospherica.
This hypnotic album from Duncan Sumpner -- aka Songs of Green Pheasant -- is dedicated to one of his friends and also a cousin, both of whom passed away in 2010. It is a melancholy yet uplifting meditation on landscape, loss and memory, with sublime brass and piano accompaniment perfectly complementing Sumpner’s light touch with vocal harmony and guitar.
Soft Wounds makes much from careful composition, thematic coherence, and Sumpner's ability to write about his own backyard. It walks amid an intoxicating air of English pastoralism somewhere between the darker cloudy hues in Ian Carr’s Old Heartland and the manicured nostalgic terrain of Virginia Astley’s From Gardens Where We Feel Secure.
In an ideal world, “Teenwolf” would be a big summer hit and it already wins an award for the most subtle use of a barking dog on any album I’ve ever heard. Clive Scott’s deceptively simple brass work crops up here and there, bringing a subtle hint of colliery bands and the lovely terrain of North Derbyshire/South Yorkshire. Scott’s playing on both “Deaf Sarah” and “For People” is introduced at just the right moment and is incredibly emotive. The entire record is as simple and wonderful as feeling the warm sun on your cheek or watching it flicker through trees on a ramble or drive. Sumpner gets the pace of this album absolutely right. I like his use of a section of quiet conversation in a doctor's office which brings to mind Atom Heart Mother period Pink Floyd.
He also has a section of listed items sung with rhythm and repetition similar to a passage by the Blue Nile, and his crafty imagery of kids, boredom and graveyards is recognizably real to any English person.
Songs Of Green Pheasant, the alias for Sheffield-based singer-songwriter Duncan Sumpner, emerged fully-formed - or as fully-formed as his gauzy, opaque songs would allow - back in 2005, with a self-titled album on FatCat. In the following two years, he released two more equally gorgeous records - the odds'n'sods collection Aerial Days and 2007's Gyllyng Street - before seemingly dropping off the map. Not an earth-shattering story, true: we all have our preferred mystery songwriters, figures who step haltingly into the half-light, hand us a small vial's worth of quartz-like songs, and then disappear, never to be heard from again.
I don't think Sumpner was ever poised for anything like a "breakthrough," but for what it's worth, those three albums have lodged firmly in my consciousness, rewarding repeat listens with their graceful, slow unfurl. In a slightly uncanny turn, weeks before Rusted Rail's announcement of the release of Soft Wounds, I'd been moved to contact Sumpner's former label to ask of his whereabouts. (They didn't know.) But here he is, offering another small collection of songs to the world, his weightless, almost androgynous voice still drifting above the songs, nursed by a cloud of reverb.
"Drifting above" is a recurring theme in Soft Wounds, with Sumpner threading the same lyrics, or minor variations thereof, into a loose narrative. Witness the initial, bird's-eye view of the world that begins "Teenwolf": "Looking down on oak trees / like a pilot." He sings of "old war planes" in "Deaf Sarah," and connects the two themes in "Flesheaters," where our protagonist now looks down "on oak trees / like a war pilot." There are also figure eights traced (though mist on glass) in "Teenwolf" and "Deaf Sarah," while the "sun sinks on graves" in "Mirror" and "Lemon Yellow." The protagonist here is obsessed with reiterating visions, like a damaged soul repeating the same story over again, but from slightly different perspectives, as if drinking the nuance from the diorama.
Sumpner's songwriting is as "haunted" as his lyrics are, with fragile figures for guitar spinning in cycles while violins and trumpets sing out long, lone notes. The patience with which he tends these arrangements reminds slightly of Bark Psychosis's Hex, though the melodies on "Teenwolf" are pure Fleetwood Mac. (The video, recently posted at the Rusted Rail web site, is a whole other thing again, recalling the mythopoeic visions of Stan Brakhage's Dog Star Man.) Throughout Soft Wounds, Sumpner takes his time with his songs, lending them a panoramic flourish, reaching its pinnacle with the eschatological litany at the end of "Flesheaters," which then dissolves into a long instrumental reel of melancholy in "Sad Flowers (Viva Happiness)." It's a beautiful record, perfectly poised and delivered.
I concluded my 2007 review of Song of Green Pheasant's Gyllyng Street by suggesting that Duncan Sumpner, the man behind the SOGP moniker, was suitably equipped to continue the proud tradition of Fat Cat Records. Having refined his formula across a trio of full-lengths, I figured Sumpner would be one the label's leading lights for years to come. It was something of a shock to learn - nearly five years later, I hasten to add - that Sumpner had moved on to pastures new. Fat Cat's considerable loss, however, is Rusted Rail's gain, because Sumpner has once again delivered the goods on Soft Wounds, the fourth album of his career.
Sumpner has always tended to favour relatively brief, cohesive records, and Soft Wounds is no exception. Its eight compositions all sound like the work of the same artist, with the same clear goal in mind, at the same point in time. It may be five years since Gyllyng Street, but nothing about Soft Wounds suggests a lengthy or frequently interrupted gestation.
Teenwolf is a truly exquisite melange of deft percussion, distant horns, and subtle guitar textures, and it provides Soft Wounds with a wonderfully warm start. Although it's one of the finest songs I've heard this year, it could be a little too strong to open this record; the impact of the following tracks Self Portrait With a Dog and Deaf Sarah is diminished on early listens by unrealistic hopes for 'more of the same'. Now I'm reasonably well acquainted with Song of Green Pheasant and even I had to re-calibrate my expectations a little; once I had geared myself up for the slower tempo and more instrumental nature of the rest of Soft Wounds, I found I could enjoy it whole lot more.
If Teenwolf is Soft Wounds' standout moment, the nine-minute-plus Flesheaters is undoubtedly its most ambitious. Sumpner demonstrates his impressive compositional talent here, gently teasing the song in subtle new directions in a way that seems almost effortless. In this way, though not sonically, Flesheaters recalls Gyllying Street's sublime centrepiece West Coast Profiling. Few critics choose to comment on Sumpner's vocal abilities, but it's well worth pointing out that the harmonies on this track from 5:01 onwards are really rather beautiful, too.
The final highlight is the dreamy pastoral folk number, Lemon Yellow, which provides Soft Wounds with a satisfyingly memorable climax. Don't be fooled by the understated nature of Sumpner's songcraft or the lack of fanfare that has greeted this January release - Soft Wounds is one of the year's first great albums and it deserves to be heard.
From the category 'albums that need a few spins to click' comes the latest release on Rusted Rail; it is Sheffield's Duncan Sumpner and his fourth album as Songs of Green Pheasant. At first listen it seemed a relatively average bit of indie rock / folk crossover material, but over time the subtleties and quality of these compositions reveal themselves.
The style description above is more or less valid, though. In a number of tracks, acoustic guitar and Sumpner's wispy voice are combined with a steady backing of bass, drums, and piano, lending a light rock touch to the songs. Other tracks are stripped down, relying on an interplay of guitar and accents on trumpet and piano.
This includes two of my favourite tracks, which are even instrumental: "For People" and "Sad Flowers (Viva Happiness)". Both are wonderfully understated melancholic works. Speaking of which, there's a beautiful sadness in "Mirror" as well, and the long "Flesheaters" has its own share of lovely moments.
Soft Wounds is only the latest in a row of releases that cement Rusted Rail's reputation as one of the finest alternative folk labels in Europe at the moment. For me, this is another warmly gentle record to cherish, a gem that comes recommended to all lovers of indie folk, singer/songwriter, and the like.
Evening of Light
This is the first release of the band since 2007, and they pretty worked out this album to perfection. There's a dreamy melancholy involved. The wounds aren't too big, and healing is desired. I really loved it when on the 5th track the singing is really addressing towards the "little one". Elsewhere the mood is withdrawn further from the scene. Beautiful trumpet mood arrangements appear. But other textures by keyboards spaces appear as well, rhythmically (with simple cradle shaking rhythms, by drums, percussion and guitars) we're brought into a dream, the close vocal harmonies keep you into that cloudy affection towards the scene. There's a real band feeling and the atmosphere doesn't leave the room for an album full of moodiness, with plenty of instrumental improvisation.
Beautiful and intriguing album on the Galway-based label from Sheffield's Duncan Sumpner (following a few long players on Fat Cat in the past). There's a flavour of Midlake about these woozy, tripped-out folk songs that's very appealing. For example, the languid Teen wolf or the nostalgic Deaf Sarah. There's also trumpet involved, which we always love.
The Underground of Happiness
After a trilogy of albums out on the label FatCat Records, Duncan went Sumpner shelter in Rusted Rail Records to distribute his new folk-songs with narcolepsy. Soft Wounds , his new album, perfectly suit all listeners wanting a companion audio taff or for a nap. Opting for a cruise worthy of High Llamas and Kings Of Convenience , the UK opts for appeasement with artisanal cured compositions and intoxicating. Waves of psychedelic shapes surround these tracks matt colors, sometimes minimalist, sometimes lush, but in any case much insensitive to modernity and any formatting. The artist from Sheffield back in time by offering pleasantly nostalgic old-fashioned songs, rocked about by the same influences as the seventies titles Fairguson or group Midlake . More than an album built on different songs, Songs Of Green Pheasant conducted a folk soundtrack of spring reflecting the image of places large and bright, pastel shade, away from everything, urbanization, mobile phones and ADSL. The journey of the eight pieces of choice is almost relaxing and purifying. Difficult, early this year to find melancholic melodies as bewitching as Soft Wounds , diffuser neurasthenic unforgettable symphonies ("For People", "Sad Flowers (Viva Happiness)") and delicate prettiness of folk ("Deaf Sarah "," Mirror "," Lemon Yellow "), dreamy as it should. And when Duncan Sumpner decides to mix the two, you get stuck between track anthology of acid-folk and medieval inspirations ("Flesheaters"). Good trip, therefore, beyond time and fashion.
(Translated from French)
Duncan Sumpner is a thirty-something teacher from Sheffield, Yorkshire, UK who records under the banner of Songs of Green Pheasant. His first outing since 2007, evoking West Coast, dreampop/folk harmonies, bound to draw comparisons with the likes of Fleet Foxes and Midlake. Arguably Sumpner's exquisite harmonies are as strong - stronger perhaps - than either and have a more instant appeal. Time will tell if this is also an enduring one. "Teen Wolf" is a catchy, euphoric yet laid back mini-classic which transports one back to 1970s West Coast of USA. "Self Portrait With A Dog", which continues the canine theme, is an eerie mantra, while "Deaf Sarah" is lazy, hazy, soft rock of the old school - all rather delicate and quite superb. It is also notable for a key feature of "Soft Wounds" namely the use of brass as a lead instrument. This is further exemplified on "For People", an instrumental which is probably closest in melody and structure to the aforementioned Fleet Foxes. In fact the brass lends "Soft Wounds" a genuinely transatlantic sound, evoking both the Canyon and the colliery. "Flesheaters" is, along with the opening "Teen Wolf", probably the strongest composition and arrangement, again redolent of post-psychedelic, laid-back, cocaine cowboys of yesteryear but with a focus and charm that is quite transcendental and cleansing.'Soft Wounds' is a beautiful and accomplished album made for sunny days and warm evenings outdoors. In fact it's almost too much of a good thing, a bit like a chilled holiday where there is nothing to do but lie on the beach day after day. There's nothing at all wrong with that, it's just that you occasionally yearn for an energetic romp over some rocks or anything that will shake you out of your blissful lethargy. It may be, though, that in his own small way at least, Yorkshire's Sumpner can do for the West Coast revival what Jonathan Wilson did last year and Fleet Foxes before that. Lie back, relax, and ride the vapour trail.
Note to art lovers: The CD is housed in a hand-assembled and had stamped recycled card sleeve featuring artwork by Duncan Sumpner.
First release from Songs Of Green Pheasant since 2007. After three releases on Fat Cat records, Duncan Sumpner returns with another narcoleptic dream folk album on Rusted Rail. To be honest i was a bit surprised when i first read that he had a new album coming out, though "Gyllyng Street" was one of my favorite releases in 2007. "Soft Wounds" has everything i loved in Songs Of Green Pheasant records. Jazzy horns, freak folk interludes and psych folk melodies shuffled with AM radio pop tunes, all perfectly matched together like a midnight summer dream.
Made by Sheffield-based Duncan Sumpner, this is the 4- and 8-tracked album of your dreams, if you love nothing better than sinking into an aural bed of softly-sung, lo-fi, feathery goodness. It's pop, in the most understated sort of sense. If the B-section of your record shelves contains Bedhead, Beirut, and Belle and Sebastian, you'll want Soft Wounds to do your ears some subtle damage.
English singer-songwriter Duncan Sumpner, who goes under the stage name Songs of Green Pheasant, has released three albums on FatCat records, which also released albums by Sigur Ros. However for his latest work, Soft Wounds, the Sheffield-based musician has chosen to go with the independent Galway label Rusted Rail. The eight-track album is a gentle, slow, and mellow collection of folk-pop and indie, with the strongest tracks being opener 'Teen Wolf' and closer 'Lemon Yellow'. The sparse, stripped down, instrumentation of 'Teen Wolf', allows the emphasis to be placed on the beguiling vocal harmonies and the song's hint of folk-rock psychedelica, reveals traces of Crosby, Stills, and Nash, and Matthew's Southern Comfort.'Lemon Yellow' finds Sumpner alone on acoustic guitar and this number is distinguished by its sophisticated vocal melody. To these ears the song has traces of Paul McCartney and Syd Barrett, without either aping those artists or being too much in thrall to them. The reference points hint at origins, but the overall effect and achievement of these abovementioned songs are Sumpner's own. 'For People' is a haunting composition, which starts with an eerie piano motif, before giving way to trumpet refrain, creating a peculiarly English and moving reverie. Given this is an album of mellowness and mood, your reaction to it will depend on your own temperament at a given time and when you happen to play it. Laid-back, quiet songs are not going to click with you when you need something energetic. This is one for the quiet night in when you want to relax - bedsit ballads for indie ears.
This CD is immediately bringing to mind the likes of Fleetwood Mac and Crosby, Stills, Nash and Young (and so by default the modern comparison here would have to be Fleet Foxes). Gently-paced and slickly arranged folk pop with totally smooth harmonies usher us into the collection on opener 'Teen Wolf'. This is really relaxing listen, actually. The way the vocal harmonies swell and recede sounds really natural but no doubt is the product of hours of hard work. Even though there's a certain amount of polish on here the casual grooves still give it an informal, unhurried feel. Many of the songs have a doleful, dusky feel to them that's much more understated than any of the aforementioned bands' work (in fact really it's just that first track that's so reminiscent of them), and as we settle into the record the folk influences become more prevalent. These accessible downbeat stylings bring to mind a stripped back Epic45 a little, or even Hood sans the electronic elements. Pleasant, relaxing and melodic songs with the occasional mournful instrumental interlude.