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Martin Archer English Commonflowers Review

Album. Released 2003.  

BBC Review

70s English avant rock, jazz and folk meets 21st century electronics and free improv...

Peter Marsh 2003

The flowers that dominate the cover of this record are neither common or English (going by my limited botanical expertise). Looking more like they've escaped from a 50s sci-fi film or at the very least some forgotten corner of Kew Gardens, they loom out of a desolate, possibly English landscape. It's a strangely compelling image, tinged with an odd beauty and potential malevolence, a mix of the natural and the...well, unnatural.

Much the same could be said of Martin Archer's music, which here continues on the same paths he traced with 2001's Winter Pilgrim Arriving. As before, Archer's brand of Anglicana combines trace elements of Canterbury scene rock, free improvisation, electronica and wistful folkishness. The inner sleeve carries a short piece of text, a frozen snapshot of England, 1968; a reassuring world of cups of tea, rollups, organ solos, football scores on the radio, Reggae Chartbuster albums. Though written in the present tense, it knowingly predicts a future of software and shopping malls; so where (or when) are we?

It's subtle dislocations like these that are the lifeblood for Archer's music. (As Captain Beefheart once remarked, "The past sure is tense"). The opening "I'm yr Huckleberry" pits a reedy, fuzzed Mike Ratledge keyboard sound over gentle synth bubbles, later interrupted by meandering fuzz bass and distant, lovely horn parts. Maybe if the Orb remixed Soft Machine's Third they'd come up with something like this. "Trash White Tonal" and "Down the Road" are equally seductive; on the former, double bass and trombone ghost their way through a cloud of gently gurgling synths, while the latter sounds like John Martyn and Richard Thompson jamming with Brian Eno.

Elsewhere, more abrasive saxophony (handled by Archer and longtime colleague Charlie Collins) recalls the kind of post AACM improv that characterised Archer's earlier work. The episodic 17 minute "Mall Bunnies" is reminiscent of the intricate detail of his Wild Pathway Favourites, though with bonus carcrash guitar bursts and chattering electronics.

Possibly the album's best moment is Archer's beautiful rework of Nick Drake's "Know" (his second cover from Pink Moon). Drake's plaintive melody rises and falls into dense, scything drones reminiscent of Faust at their best. English but in no way common, Archer's complex, gorgeous music demands a wider audience.

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