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Little Incursions (self-released)

Some people make day time records, all gambolling in the fields or flipping over in the sunshine; some people make night time records, occupied with drinks or dancing or doom. Little Incursions is a record for the in-between.

It’s always fading light and lowering temperatures for instrumentalist Mark Jago and singer/keyboardist Peggy Van Zalm: a sound not yet settled into a shape, a mood still in flux. Though it is true that we are further from day by album’s end, where having begun with an opening trio of Air, See and Forest, with their lighter percussion and open tones, we transition through Black, Nocturnal and Storm, all a bit more dense and vocally edgier, to the closing exhalation, Home.

As you can see, song titles are singular, almost brutally brief, but their messages fudge that clarity. “We’re travelling light”, Van Zalm sings, and it is true enough, but the weight shifts and makes you adjust your pace and your eyesight. Does the fact that the tenor saxophone of Travers Keirle feels like the suited enquirer in Nocturnal soften or emphasise the angularity in the synthesisers and guitar? Is that confident stride towards the fire in the clamour of voices and guitar towards the end of See a sign of control after the hesitation at the beginning, or a repudiation of it?

The mix of glistening electronics and solid state guitars, drums which punctuate and bass that can sometimes slither, play on the margins usually, rather than dominating. So in the sound-filled final minute of Silence, where the escalation feels quite dramatic in its pile-on of instruments and Jago’s monotonal reciting seems to provoke Van Zalm to more pressing urgency, it is less assault than gnawing agitation that peaks and drops away immediately.

Even in Black, with a more febrile bass and Van Zalm asserting herself against it and Peter Velik’s scratching against the night sky guitar*, the unmistakable edge of the atmosphere does not lacerate. But it does begin to engulf, or at least portend that ending. That sense that this record was made with an element of obsessiveness seeping through the songs.

(*Incidentally, tech heads are well accommodated. Every instrument and amplifier played by the guest musicians is identified by brand or manufacturer in the liner notes. So, yes, if you’re wondering, that is a Slingerland Gene Krupa Sound King Snare you heard played by Peter Timmerman, but that Deluxe Telecaster is not played by Neil Clark – who wields a regulation Telecaster – it is instead in the hands of John Encarnacao. Did I mention there’s a sense of (not unappealing) obsessiveness here?)

It is a direction captured in the band/album name, which suggests forays and explorations, advances and strategic retreats. A space that can accommodate, or indeed a space that can shelter. And no, that doesn’t mean the same thing.

After the interior R&B of Forest – think The Anchoress and Swing Out Sister refashioning dance music – in Quiver Van Zalm hovers over a film noir-meets-‘90s Bristol mood of lightly bending guitar and angled synths, drums shuffling to a rounded rather than sharpened point. Whatever threat might be behind the request to “lay down your arms” feels softened, maybe even negated. After all, Van Zalm insists there’s “No reason, no rhyme/No crime”.

But then it is easier to believe, or to fall for that, in the fading light, before the night really falls.


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