The Hardy Tree ~ Stagdale Pt. 2

The first installment of Frances Castle (The Hardy Tree)’s graphic novel promised “a story that links two children across a generation, both outsiders.”  Last time we met the plucky Kathy in 1975, and were introduced to the mysterious Saxon Jewel.  This time we meet the other half of the equation, and the story grows much darker.  In 1938 Berlin, Max is separated from his family while fleeing the Nazis.  The chapter begins with a harrowing scene: bangs and crashes and broken glass.  Ugly graffiti is painted on a wall.  Max will be sent away for his own protection, the fate of his parents unknown, his future a blank canvas of snow.  Toward the end, we start to see the connection between these children, although the rest of the story has yet to be unveiled.

The music is more dramatic as well, with only shades of the former bucolic tone.  “November 1938” begins with foreboding synth, the trademark of 80s horror, quickly adding melancholic chords and the suggestion of boot steps.  When the strings plunge in, the cinematic tone of the graphic novel is underlined.  There will be wonder, and tiny moments of grace, but we already know history: not every character will have a happy ending.  “Escape from Berlin” is incredibly evocative, thanks to the sound of train wheels, a reflection of Max’s flight from Berlin.  Castle protects Max as well as she can, with brighter chords and intimations of hope; but this reality cannot be glossed over.  A ticking watch strikes a sharp contrast between Max, whose time may be running out, and Kathy, who has plenty of time to kill.

The EP concludes with “Stagdale in the Snow,” a brighter, wintry piece, a pause between innocence and awakening, childhood and adulthood.  In one way, it’s a cliffhanger; in another, an armistice. We’re already looking forward to Pt. 3, in which more secrets will be revealed.  (Richard Allen)

Clay Pipe Music; Release Date November 5

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