Album review: Cosmo Sheldrake – The Much Much How How and I (Transgressive Records)

Cosmo Sheldrake

Weird and wonderful

You don’t often come across original artists in contemporary music, in most cases it’s possible to trace the ideas heard in ‘new’ music back to an earlier artist or era. In Cosmo Sheldrake’s case that is very difficult indeed, he combines songs of a broadly folk style with a broad range of instruments, many of which have rarely been heard in ‘popular’ music and in doing so he has come up with something that could just be unique. Sheldrake is a multi-instrumentalist who taught himself piano at an early age and seems to have mastered the whole gamut of woodwind instruments whilst gaining a strong grasp of electronic music making along the way. This doesn’t tell you what this wilfully eccentric album sounds like but it should give an idea of the chromatic array that it contains. He is also a fan of Edward Lear and Lewis Carroll and makes this clear in the lyrics on the 14 tracks assembled on this his debut.

Sheldrake is the latest in a long line of eccentric English musicians, a line that includes Robert Wyatt, Neil Innes and Vivian Stanshall of the Bonzo Dog Doo-Dah Band, Kate Bush and Julian Cope and many more. It’s a not a conventional route to success but if Sheldrake can get some exposure his music is memorable and charming enough to win him a following from those looking for something that’s a bit different.

The opener Linger Longer has pump organ, drums, synth bass and clarinet, oboe and several other instruments that all manage to hang together as well as if a chamber orchestra were playing them. It’s the electronics and distinctly English vocal style of Sheldrake that disrupts any sense of the conventional yet his appealing melodies and simple rhythms keep everything on track. Wriggle has splashes of bright, shiny sounds over a strange folksy song with lines like “And wriggle on, have a sing along, Put some pickles on, and play the Mellotron?”, there’s clearly a playfully eccentric mind at work here and that is evident regardless of the words chosen. Birth a Basket is another cornucopia of tone colour with sounds that appear to include a football rattle, Sheldrake is a keen collector of field recordings and clearly not averse to making them himself. An anthropology student at Sussex University he has absorbed a lot of early influences and distilled them into a special brew of his own. Release notes mention the Beatles and the Kinks, and there is some evidence of this with the track Egg Soldiers having a distinct Sgt. Peppers vibe but such reflections of the sixties are few and far between because the arrangements are of such a different style.

Sound quality is boosted by the presence of so many acoustic instruments and sound sources, Linger a While has a spinning coin sample used to great effect, but it’s undermined by treatment to the voice that make it sound a little distorted at times. There is also the problem of cramming so many instruments and sound sources into two channels using multi-tracking rather than live recording, inevitably this requires a bit of compression and limiting. But overall this is a lovely album, one that makes it clear that there is still plenty of potential for accessible but quirky music in a world of too many beats.

Jason Kennedy

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