Ant Traditions is a duo of guitarist David Birchall and jazz pianist Adam Fairhall, who for this release plays toy pianos. Here at We Need No Swords HQ, we’re great fans of Birchall’s work – Soft Vowels, his solo outing on Raw Tonk is reviewed here and his trio cassette with Sam Andraea and Andrew Cheetham on Tombed Visions is reviewed here – and Portal Envelope Village is another corker, a glistening and gluey hive mind jam that teems with mysterious, wiggling energy.
As usual, Birchall’s guitar provokes thick, fuzzy trails of feedback and distortion, sounding almost sine-wavey at times. On Garage Time machine, he coaxes long, mournful groans from his instrument, curling around Fairhall’s curiously metallic piano pinks and plunks, which get increasingly frenetic with each passing second. It’s like peering into a colony of the titular insects and trying to discern some kind of pattern to their infeasibly complex activities, before abandoning all attempts at rationality and giving yourself up to the hypnotic, ever changing flow.
Shrine in Loft takes things down a notch, with a brooding drift of guitar scrapes and faraway echoing piano notes. If that previous track was an endoscopic voyage into the anthill, this is an impassive wide-angle sweep of a deserted temple, the wind rustling through empty corridors as scraps and rubbish collect in the corners, the only movement the six-legged scavengers working methodically through the ruins.
Adam Fairhall’s toy piano fits perfectly into the treacly scuzz of Birchall’s playing. My ignorance of Fairhall’s previous work is inexcusable, really, given his pedigree, but on this evidence he’s a shoe-in for further investigation. On the three tracks of Portal Envelope Village, his chosen instrument makes an unusual sound, its hollow plonks and bongs occasionally having a Mbira-like cadence, with burnished tones dancing around at the higher end.
He goes all out in the final track, Ants Play Koko, sending forth a rippling cloud of notes, like numinous spores spilling forth from twitching antennae as Birchall’s guitar scrabbles and flails around. In my deranged flights of fancy, I’m imagining this as insect glossalia, worker ant data passed down the lines and reaching out into the upper world. Enter the tunnels. Smell the earth. Worship the queen.