Album Reviews

The Declining Winter: Really Early, Really Late

Richard Adams returns with one of his most defining records so far.

For over three decades now, Richard Adams has been one of the most important voices from the U.K experimental underground. Just about every artist from the New Weird Britain movement echoes some sort of influence from Adams’ involvements in Hood and The Declining Winter. The sounds of rural psychadelia stretched and shaped into new ways, but make no mistake, Adams was at the heart of its beginnings and still remains entrenched in its presence.

Through his creative guise as The Declining Winter, Adams has never relied on past glories. Always carving out new subtle ways to make good on his talents, whether it be through a vignette of one’s past or present, the Hood co-founder has always found unique ways to crystallise the moment. Through those autumnal images and ominous, contemplative snapshots across the Pennines, no one has captured a sense of time and place quite like Adams, and as The Declining Winter, he conjures up the kind of melancholic gloomscapes that cling to your bones like a stiff January breeze.

At the time, 2015’s Home For Lost Souls was The Declining Winter’s apex moment. While follow-up, 2018’s Belmont Slope, didn’t quite emulate the emotional force of its predecessor, Adams’ latest offering, Really Early, Really Late is welcoming return to form, showcasing the same ranges of emotion and frozen obscurity we’ve all associated with The Declining Winter at one point or another.

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With slight variations in tone and instrumentation, Adams begins with new ways to deliver his messages. Both opening track, The Darkening Way, and The Fruit of the Hours are nimble, with a woodsy delicacy built upon with lovely orchestral arrangements. Then there’s Really Early, Really Late’s watershed moment, which arrives in the way of penultimate track, How to be Dillusioned: a warped, dub-inspired journey shoved down the lens of post-rock. On paper these moments seem like a leap, but it’s the subtleties which make them true gold dust, whilst still sounding like archetypal The Declining Winter.

There are the moments we all expect, too. The rich atmospheres which dominate Song of the Moor Fire and Project Row House. Sun-dappled with riffs that soak up the moisture from damp northern terrains. On the latter, it’s an interesting juxtaposition, given the political connotations that some may find within the song.

The Declining Winter - Really Early, Really Late

The title track is one many fans of The Declining Winter will rejoice. With syncopated rhythms and a fractured improv’ jazz vibe, Adams has always held Talk Talk close to his heart, and here the beautiful ghost of Mark Hollis is ever-present.

Continuing the post-rock lineage, Yellow Fields  is like fairy dust drifting from the M62 into the Moors, and while it’s purely instrumental, it still embodies the unique sound that Adams harnesses with this project. Still delicately manoeuvring, This Heart Beats Black sparks the vision of a ghost combing the same, bleak frontiers. With throbbing bass lines that almost reach into the realms of drone, Adams enmeshes pastoral psychedelia with a kraut-rock blur.

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Ending with …Let These Words of Love Become the Lamps That Light Your Way (Fiona Apple-inspired?), Adams parts with a minimalist piano-led piece that is swallowed up by a crosswind of strings. As he recites from his lyric sheet in sing-speak fashion, once again a visions emerges, as Adams disappears over the peak towards the frosty, borderless terrains of his native West Yorkshire.  

Like Jason Pierce, Adams’ ability to conjure up different results from the same ingredients time and time again is one of those rare feats in music. He’s done it again on Really Early, Really Late, of course. We shouldn’t be surprised, for is has become part of the act, and in a world where the value of art continues to fade and the meaning of music seems to be shrinking but for the devoted few, it’s moments like these that should be celebrated far more than they are. Perhaps it’s all about the small victories? Size aside, at least we can celebrate Really Early, Really Late, because Adams has delivered one of the finest chapters in The Declining Winter story so far.

Really Early, Really Late is out now via Home Assembly Music. Purchase from Bandcamp.

By Simon Kirk

Product from the happy generation. Proud purple bin owner surviving on music, books and LFC. New book, Welcome To Charmsville, available from all major vendors.

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