Stripped back and sparse, ‘Wooden Mask’ from Alexander Shields’ A Grave With No Name is a good reminder that music doesn’t always need complex arrangements or heavy production to be released into the public domain.
‘Wooden Mask’ is a mixture of slow acoustic and reverberating, distorted guitar that echoes over soft, refrained drums and Shield’s silky vocals. The beauty of this album lies in its simplicity; the skeletal structures and arrangements reminiscent of Nick Drake’s ‘Pink Moon’. Each song is allowed to be absorbed by the listener while the few instrumental tracks provide a segue between trains of thought.
Shields describes ‘Wooden Mask’ as ‘a meditation on renewal, using ritual and ceremony as a means to explore this theme’, and the tracks certainly represent this – the gentle ‘Black Sage 2’ contrasting with the heavy distortion of ‘Storm’ which then peters out into the melodic ‘I Set Fire To My Boat’.
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The album’s final track, ‘Tape’, with birds chirping in the background and its wobbly playback, was most likely recorded in a field or woodland through a condenser mic straight on to a cassette. It’s a reminder of the effectiveness of simplicity that this album portrays and, despite the track’s running length of just 1:41, evokes childhood memories and days gone by – the album’s themes of renewal, peace and transcendence summed up despite not a word being sung.
The occasional fret buzz of the guitars on the recording is a reminder that this is supposed to be an intimate, live-sounding experience that takes the listener on a journey through nature, life and death. It’s an album that’s both uplifting as well as desolate and, despite its simplicity, is a rich experience that uses natural sounds that compliment the album’s themes, rather than the modern studio wizardry that is so often used today.
This Grave With No Name article was written by Neil Stopforth, a GIGsoup contributor