Padang Food Tigers is a UK duo of strings players, Spencer Grady and Stephen Lewis; Sigbjorn Apeland is a Norwegian harmonium player, of acoustic trio 1982, and 1982 co-conspirator Nils Økland’s Band.
While Grady and Lewis occasionally play harmonium themselves, Apeland brings richer textures to Bumblin’ Creed⏤originally released as a limited edition cassette for Record Store Day 2016, now a Northern Spy CD⏤without swamping the uncluttered, en plein air serenity of the duo’s music. He challenges the introspective cast of their 2010 debut, Born Music and vinyl-only follow-up Ready Country Nimbus (2012), but never their music’s essential intimacy.
This backwoods sensitivity⏤the duo’s Bandcamp page describes them as “Championing spirits of locus and wonder … finger-pickin’ and avian charms, with unions of harmonium and harmonica waltzing endless time with Faulkner’s southern ghosts”⏤is curious, given that Grady and Lewis both live in London; also that they cite Tetuzi Akiyama alongside the more plausible Loren Connors as an influence; but nothing else I know evokes any better the crispness and reflective interiority of sound-making in what now passes for wilderness (their purest distillation remains the 2010 3-track/10-minute EP, Go Down Moses).
“Saroyan’s Appeal”, the new album’s first and, comfortably, at just under five minutes, its longest cut, is rich in atmospherics, with manifold creaking and settling around Apeland’s multiform bellows draws creating an occluded atmosphere, in which occasional incisive finger-picks glint jewel-like.
The title piece follows suit, setting melodic but mournfully reflective banjo to heavily rain-washed harmonium and voluble bird song.
Most of what follows is more subtly atmospheric, notably the achingly gorgeous “Ishmael’s Place”, on which Ry Cooder-esque steel string twangs are matched to jaw harp harmonics. Cooder’s ghost is then banished for good by a close orchestration of languorous exactitude.
Some of the remaining pieces, such as the languid “It’s in Thee, Frittering Away”, have a clear-water opacity, but on others, such as “Barely A Breath In Your Parenthesis”, the depth and richness of the mix make ‘orchestration’ an apposite word, despite the trio’s bare resources. Despite, too, that both of those pieces may seem fragmentary.
The choice of instrumentation is deft throughout, and the music seems to flow from ad-hoc choices: Witness “Forgiving You, Sammy Grayling”, on which the ‘lead’ passes from resonator guitar to harmonica, to the accompaniment of a steady harmonium drone.
But the album as a whole is more finely worked. The atmospheres concocted for occasional pieces such as “Flåmsbana” evoke the sounds of hiatus in agricultural or maritime industry: winch-creaks, and barn or boat boards settling under pressure.
Naturally the trio save their strongest and most direct melody, that of the lovely “Twin Hither”, for last, but Bumblin’ Creed seduces at length in a gradual, subtler ways. It’s best experienced, and perhaps can only be fully appreciated, as music to seep in to those preciously rare, restful moments of revery.
Spencer Grady and Stephen Lewis banjo, dobro; Sigbjorn Apeland harmonium.
Nils Økland Band – Kjølvatn.
1982 / Moskus / Håkon Stene – A/B / Mestertyven / Lush Laments for Lazy Mammal.
Charalambides + The Michael Flower Band + Padang Food Tigers + Dean McPhee + Hitodama – Cafe Oto, 19 and 20 May 2012.
Buy Bumblin’ Creed from Padang Food Tigers’ Bandcamp.