Natalia Beylis is one third of spectral psych-folk-noise-improv trio Woven Skull, an outfit that I first came across playing wigged out jams to blissfully unaware toddlers at the Sin Eater festival a couple or three years back. Beylis and her two cohorts (Aonghus McEvoy and Willie Stewart), armed only with a snare drum, mandola and guitar, laid down a mightily pulverising riff, its tinny clamour evoking images of pagan ritual marches to some unspecified bacchanal. That the kids making up the audience seemed totally ensconced in their craft-related work seemed unimportant, as if they were all linked on some deep psychic level that bore little relation to the comings and goings of this material plane. I had to get me some of that action, anyway, and I’d recommend you do too – anything from their Bandcamp is definitely worth your time, although I have a lot of fondness for the fungal cacophony of last year’s Emission From Sun Bleached Brains, originally put out on cassette by Eiderdown Recordings, or for the eldritch creepiness of Things That Happened in Different Places, a collage of tour recordings from 2013. (Beylis also plays in Divil A’ Bit and Three Eyed Makara, and produces field recording-based works under The Sunken Hum moniker, all of which are worth checking out.)
At first, the eight tracks of (mainly) solo piano that make up Green Bird Fountain seem to have little in common with those unhinged jams. Released on Delphine Dora’s Wild Silence label, the album utilises ‘an out of tune and hauntingly resonant’ piano Beylis inherited in 2013, prompting her to start playing again after a long hiatus. The idiosyncratic nature of that instrument sets the tone for Green Bird Fountain, its metallic clang reverberating like a saloon bar Joanna after a lysergic breakdown. The firmly depressed sustain pedal amps up extra atmosphere, occasionally reminiscent of the sedentary hollowness of Grouper’s Ruins, although the crafted emptiness of that record is a world away from the directness of Beylis’s approach. Here, the artist is thrillingly present. On opener Dappled Sun, rippling bursts of chords form the basis for sinuous, mantra-like melodies, their sustain so pronounced that rather than decay her clusters of notes seem to hang in the air long after they’re played as others pile upon them. A Hipflask Full of Cognac uses similar repeating cycles to create a rolling crescendo over more than quarter of an hour, its repetition taking on a hypnotic and glistening cast, the wide open chords like McCoy Tyner’s closing prayer on A Love Supreme extended across a perpetual horizon.
It is this ritualistic quality, I think, that binds Green Bird Fountain to Beylis’s other work with Woven Skull. These pieces are incantations, their strange jazz-like intervals – check out the title track for more Tyner-esque modal trips – channelling nature’s dark forces and drawing us in with their strange beauty. And when Woven Skull percussionist Willie Stewart appears to add thumping drum accompaniment to Floating Cactus (he’s also on two other tracks), the circle is complete and I’m momentarily right back in that tent full of toddlers, zoning out as an enigmatic bunch of longhairs pound down the doors of perception. It’s only a temporary flashback, however – Green Bird Fountain opens up a different path, one that’s more solitary and strange, a jacob’s ladder that leads deep inwards to a mysterious and shining core. Here’s to ya.