Once upon a time, there was an English schoolteacher named Duncan Sumpner. (No, not Sting, you’re thinking of former schoolteacher turned rocker Gordon Sumner). Mr. Sumpner started writing music, and called that endeavor Songs of Green Pheasant. For a while, he was dubbed England’s answer to Iron & Wine, but that kind of comparison detracts from both artists. Whereas Iron & Wine’s music is rooted in the gothic south, Sumpner’s home is in the ’80s birthplace of lush and gorgeous post-rock. The self-titled debut from `Pheasant’ was a tad more folky, much like Iron & Wine’s debut, but Gyllyng Street is a more textured and ambient journey, veering away from the Nick Drake and Simon & Garfunkel comparisons, and more toward the Talk Talk and Kevin Shields shout-outs.
That being said, the difference between most droning post-rock and the songs on Gyllyng Street is the melodious folk foundation. Sumpner’s tunes don’t just meander into space, they start with both feet on the ground, but then tend to reach into the stratosphere. Take the opener, “Boats,” with easygoing guitar notes alongside steady bass and drums to create a simple, yet open starting point. From there, the song opens up with Sumpner’s mellifluous vocals and the later instrumental portion is pure ’80s new wave / post-rock tidewaters. One can hear similarities in New Order’s “Elegia” or some of the tracks from the Cure’s Kiss Me, Kiss Me, Kiss Me.
“King Friday,” (a possible nod to the Mr. Rogers puppet character?) uses the sound of trains to transition from slow meditative dirge to a more celebratory dance groove. Going from one to the other is like riding that little train from Mr. Rogers’ living room into the `Land of Make Believe,’ so it’s no stretch to think that the song actually found its inspiration from the show. The piano intro, along with natural sound effects, of “The Ballad of Century Paul,” reminds me of Brian Wilson’s work in the studio, which also likens these tracks to fellow Wilson admirers, Grizzly Bear and Animal Collective.
“West Coast Profiling” is a highlight, hearkening back to the acoustic guitar meeting the electronic age feel and psychedelic pop of the Church or A-ha, before once again going into elegiac territory with a rapturous coda. The horns within “Alex Drifting Alone” remind me of the score for L.A. Confidential, and that jazz flavor will have others clamoring for the days of Talk Talk. A chorus of feminine voices replaces Sumpner’s in “Fires P.G.R.” to create an even more ambient texture. The album ends with the fuzzy white noise backgrounds of “A Sketch for Maenporth,” a track that makes you feel as if you’re in a gently rocking rowboat, rubbing up against the pilings of the dock, contemplating whether to tie up or retreat to the sea once more.
To be honest, I have a serious head cold right now, and it’s difficult to tell whether or not the hazy shoegaze folk of Songs of Green Pheasant is causing my brain to swim or it’s the medication, but either way, I’m feeling pretty good about Gyllyng Street. I have no idea where that is (it’s apparently a road in Falmouth, Cornwall where Sumpner once lived), or if it’s all in the mind, but I’ll walk to it with Songs of Green Pheasant on my headphones anytime.