Music inspired by locality. Is there anything better?
Alison Cotton knows this only too well. Whilst based in London, the imagery that springs to life on Cotton’s latest LP, The Portrait You Painted of Me (her third and follow-up to 2020’s Only Darkness Now), evokes a series of blurry snapshots barely visible through the flames.
Also plying her trade in Left Outsider, the duo featuring Cotton’s husband, Mark Nicholas, in a solo capacity the London-based songstress underpins a different brand of power, and The Portrait You Painted of Me continues to darken the creative canvas.
On The Portrait You Painted of Me, we see Cotton produce bourgeoning folk laments inspired by deep listening and drone, also dancing on the fringes of psychedelia. Perhaps not psychedelia through sound but feel. Deeply hypnotic, the essence of Cotton’s splintered compositions have the kind icy premonitions not even a roaring bonfire could thaw out.
While Julianna Barwick is an influence, there’s more of an earthy essence to Cotton’s compositions. Her viola, creating the kind of bone-cold backdrops the likes of Keeley Forsyth has been immersed in for the last three years; this is prevalent during one of The Portrait You Painted of Me’s finest moments, The Last Wooden Ship.
I Buried the Candlesticks follows. Like hymnal sonics fit for a forest wake, Cotton drags you into the kind of warped world you never knew existed. And the bleakness continues with The Tunnel Underground Seemed Neverending. With yet another song title perfectly encapsulating the mood, The Tunnel Underground Seemed Neverending holds the sort of emotional intensity one would associate with Godspeed You Black Emperor’s Hope Drone.
With a frosty spoken-word sermon inspired by Nico, Violet May is a love letter committed to tape. Drawing from the same medieval times Richard Dawson has recently illuminated, through the campfire glow, Cotton’s weighty viola creates the kind of drama to match this beautiful tale.
Then there’s the final piece, 17th November 1962. Quite simply, it’s the end-time ballad that Crippled Black Phoenix never wrote. Inspired by a forgotten fishing boat, it’s not only the most stirring piece on The Portrait You Painted of Me; the more one engages, it’s apparent that it’s one of the most emotive compositions of the year.
Finding comfort in the fissures of folk music, Cotton leans hard on locality and the decay of forgotten towns in the U.K., producing the kind of isolated storms that bastions of the north, the aforementioned Forsyth and Dawson, Anne Garner, and Haress have captured so exquisitely over the years.
With The Portrait You Painted of Me, Cotton joins this thought-provoking array of talent with something that stands up to anything in the New Weird Britain movement.
The Portrait You Painted of Me is out now via Rocket Recordings. Purchase from Bandcamp.