Chris Gill and Katrina Gill 2021
Lifting the veil of grey mysteries, British collective shine the light on the dark ages and see the future in their reflection.
“It’s not like me to double and bend my ways to every one I could meet”: this line may seem to not only signal Chris Gill’s nonconformity but also contrast his ensemble’s progressive intent, while the change between 2020’s "Petrichor" and its follow-up couldn’t be more palpable – and still, there’s no contradiction. “The Sun King” focuses on an individual’s inner development – that’s why the songs little by little shed lyrics here, distilling the album to instrumental tableau towards the end, because no words are required for the enlightened minds. And even though the music’s spiritual layer is well-hidden here, what with a few pieces referring to an ancient Welsh manuscript, the record’s scope, depth and gravitas gradually grow until the only remaining route down memory lane will lead to the recent past.
So though the opening a cappella wave of “Distant Land” ebbs away, leaving behind Chris’ twelve-strings ripple and ethereal vocal harmonies before Gill’s riffs and slider roll over John Camp’s bass thunder, echoes of blues harp and strands of sitar fail to break the spell – on the contrary, these sounds lure the listener to a different world, and the intricate weave of “As The Crow Flies” helps to map out the shortest distance to the great unknown, psychedelic threads embroidering the number’s gloomy pop. However, the darkness is where the cryptic “Black Book Of Carmarthen” should unleash its brass-splashed, soul-shattering assault on human emotions, as Robert Webb’s piano passages pierce guitars’ vortex, but there’s tremulous translucence to “Taking The Long Way” whose lysergic imagery and meditative tune could spellbind had they not been playfully insistent – shot through with low notes and letting sparks fly at the top.
Thus the scene is set for the album’s title track that, reciting verses from the aforementioned 13th century document and drenching cosmic ivories in drone, over hypnotic groove, delves into poetic mysteries of nature until the slowly swirling melodies which Gill and Camp bring to the surface tighten to first form a Bach-like fugue, introduce orchestral funk to the heady brew and pull the tide back to a recital. Yet if the epic “Gospel Oak” drinks from the same literary source in order to create a magnificently delicate Renaissance panorama, it draws on folksy lace and Mordecai Smyth-provided jazz jive and dares to spice up the picture with deep dub and a flourish of celestial new age. Out of there, wobbly baroque curlicues, acid sonics and tender, albeit muscular, strum of “68 Carnaby Street” signpost the veterans’ return to their old haunts, whereas “Once A Hippy…” places the platter’s finale in the heavy, raga-tinged bustle of our present to allow a romantically colored glance at what happened at the days of yore.
It’s a riveting record, revealing a fresh nuance upon every listen, as if The Sun King did indeed pour bright rays into its beckoning murk.