“An Englishman and an American in Amsterdam” joined forces during the pandemic to produce VeldHans. The album sounds like the warmth of a fire, a glass of spirits and an open story book. Jonathan Brown (Dusty Stray) and Stuart Cullen (Pilote) have created a memory box of music, stuffed with vintage samples, fireside folk and a sugar dusting of electronics. The sound is as charming as a winter village, beguiling and sedate.
The Becalming operates as a sonic show-and-tell, with diverse instrumentation that begins with thumb piano and precipitation and expands from there. Suffused with kindness and gentleness, the opening track alone offers birds and guitar, whistling, amplified tambourine and a sense that everything is going to be all right. The first single “Big Z” starts like an underwater western before heading to a cabaret. “Da Laatkomer” launches like a calliope but turns into a lullaby. And then the second single, title track and album highlight, whose video exposes the album’s charm with a vintage clip of a family putting down their other activities to enjoy an intriguing record. (This release is itself slated for 10″ vinyl later in the winter.) A grandfather clock marks the passage of time, while the record includes the sound of another record skipping, but gleefully so; the family doesn’t seem to mind. Here comes the melody; the family is transported, and so are we. At this point, we’re thinking of a little Lemon Jelly. When the strings swoop in like an orchestra of ghosts, accompanied by banjo, the link is cemented. When’s the last time you heard a song that ended so far from where it began without losing the plot?
Then there’s a sample of a square dance cuer, played atop something that is decidedly not a square dance; instead, “Get Straight” is a court procession with prog flute. Which is exactly what we knew was coming, right? “Sunburn” tells the tale of an alien encounter, chased by “When Peace Comes,” which reflects the record’s unspoken purpose: to reaffirm that life, even in lockdown, can be as rich and fertile as our imaginations will allow. In times like these, one can even imagine reaching that sliver of moon. (Richard Allen)