It shall be added to the lore, after an entry on how Sam Beam’s home recorded tapes ended up in the offices of Sub Pop, following an entry on Devendra Banhart’s art college music projects and Young God Records, and other ensuing pieces on folk artists and music made in bedrooms, that Duncan Sumpner, resident of Sheffield, England, is one of folk music’s self-made success stories. The material on Sumpner’s debut, Songs of Green Pheasant, which is also the name he took for himself, originated over three years ago. The problem was that the contact information given to FatCat Records was either false, typoed, or changed. It was two years before they finally got a hold of the schoolteacher-turned-musician, and we should all be glad they did.
The self-titled debut from Songs of Green Pheasant are ethereal, murky, dark and foreboding, but with touches and flourishes of lightness and mirth. I would describe it thusly, Songs of Green Pheasant is what would happen if the two Frenchmen in Air joined up with Kevin Shields, went acoustic, and covered what they think Simon & Garfunkel songs should sound like. Just like Sub Pop decided to present Iron & Wine’s bedroom recordings as is (the same with Young God and Devendra Banhart), FatCat used Sumpner’s master tapes, removed some hiss, and ended up finding a murky, fuzzy masterpiece of a tender soul.
Besides the traditional acoustic guitar, Sumpner also adds electric guitars, bass, drums, recorders, tambourines, and special effects noises. This is an album lush in depth and breadth. From song to song, Sumpner can evoke particular emotions, such as sadness through the vocals of “Soldiers Kill Their Sisters,” which sounds like Jon Birgisson’s high pitched Sigur Rós vocal style. Unfortunately, most of the lyrics are hard to make out due to that inherent fuzziness, but that doesn’t seem to matter. The music, especially the last minute or so of the final track, “From Here to Somewhere Else,” immerses you in emotion and introspection. I found myself looking out the window at the darkened skies, cloud laden and foreboding, losing myself in thought, looking inward at my life and experiences.
With musical shout outs to Boris Pasternak (“Nightfall (For Boris P.)”) and Hermann Hesse (“Knulp”), Sumpner lets the schoolteacher in him out for all of us to enjoy. His work reminds me of how I feel about literature. I have worked with books for years now, and am always disheartened to see customer after customer choose trashy book after trashy book. But I feel rewarded every time I am able to turn someone on to a novel like Richard Yates’ “Revolutionary Road” or David Mitchell’s “Cloud Atlas.” This is how I feel about Songs of Green Pheasant, and I hope that after all the sound and fury of bands like Green Day and Good Charlotte die an abrupt death, the folk sounds of Songs of Green Pheasant will go on.