The U.K. label A Year in the Country continues to explore folkloric history on its newest boxed disc, The Watchers. The title refers to the great oaks, ashes, and one cherished yew that have lasted for hundreds or thousands of years. As the label poignantly writes, “Some of them have lived through invasions of their island home undertaken by wooden ships, sword and arrow, the final days and passing of the old ways and the times of magic and witchcraft, the coming of the industrial revolution and the dawning of the digital era.” The trees are a reminder that time is relative, as reflected in the title of Field Lines Cartographer’s “A Thousand Autumns.” What is Brexit, or even a revolution, to a tree?
The music portrays a gentle patience, from the field recordings sprinkled throughout the album to delicate chimes and folksong. There is comfort in the thought that some living beings are older than nations. In The Lord of the Rings, they are known as Ents; in DC Comics, the Parliament of the Green. Seasons come and seasons go. A cycle is completed, another ring is added. These rings are referenced in the concentric electronics of Pulselovers, as well as in the circular badges and stickers of the Nightfall Edition (pictured below).
The CD teems with variety. Depatterning’s “Ook/Dair” rumbles like a soft train, while A Year in the Country’s “Radicle Ether” launches barrages of electronics into a town of rain and bells. The overall effect is disorienting. Ghostly voices fade into this ether, as they might in Aokigahara. These brief glimpses of humanity operate as metaphors: we are smaller, more finite than we can imagine. The liner notes express amusement that humans have learned to communicate via systems below the ground, as trees have done for millennia.
It’s a cliche to say that we’ve lost our way. Sproatly Smith sings, “We’ve been watching you, and we’ve pitied you.” The relatively new (or at least recently named) phenomenon of “forest bathing” reminds us – literally – of our roots. If wisdom is found in age, the oaks have it. Vic Mars writes that there is a feeling of “deep history” when one approaches the Eardisley (or Great) Oak. And yet, we approach such treasures with a mixture of apathy and reverence. Howlround’s augmented field recording of Novel’s Oak in Tilford makes a poignant witness. This 800-year old tree is “festooned with litter” and “groans under the weight” of the metal plates installed to support it. And yet, “it will most likely outlast us all.” If we continue at our current pace, there may come a day when only the oldest trees remember humanity at all; then one day even the oldest will be gone. The album’s last overt sound is open to interpretation: it may be a passing car, symbolizing our indifference; or it may just be the wind. (Richard Allen)