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Rose McDowall | Shawn Pinchbeck - Far From The Apple Tree

Following Night School's wonderful reissue series of Rose McDowall's post-Strawberry Switchblade work that has included Cut With The Cake Knife a collection of post-split demos, Sorrow's Under The Yew Possessed and Rose's solo outing Our Twisted Love, Rose McDowall returns with Shawn Pinchbeck and Robert Lee (her partner in Sorrow) on the Glass Modern label with the soundtrack to Far From The Apple Tree, a dark pop art fairytale directed by Grant McPhee. It's a more than welcome release as astute followers of Rose McDowall may be aware that this collaboration with Canadian electroacoustic composer, sound artist and designer has long been in gestation. She's mentioned it in old interviews and the 1999 released Piski Disk compilation The Final Solstice featured Pinchbeck with Sorrow and Current 93's David Tibet on 'Extracts From The Fairy Queene'. But whatever the story behind the recording, the folk horror imagery of Far From The Apple Tree is the perfect vehicle for this alluring and captivating soundtrack of electroacoustic folk song.

The tracks on Far From The Apple Tree are more minimal than Sorrow, and much more electronic and more ambient soundscapish than found on their albums Under The Yew Possessed and Sleep Now Forever. What remains is a folk sound and Rose's beautiful, bittersweet tones. There's a sparseness to the sound that really elevates Rose McDowall's voice to the fore which many still associate with the beautiful melodies of Strawberry Switchblade. There was, of course, always a darker strain to Strawberry Switchblade and Rose McDowall and this soundtrack furthers those aspects with lyrics that are witchy, sensual and pagan.

On the opening track, 'Forever', Rose's yearning broken hearted harmonious voice, elongated and stretched, basks over electronics and the tinkering of strings. Solemn electronic wavers and evocative cinematic strings carry an eerie tinge. Filled with a haunted presence, it is an atmosphere which continues throughout the music and the lyrics setting the scene for what follows on this soundtrack to Far From The Apple Tree. A sense of nature permeates much of this with environmental sounds threaded through many of the songs. On 'Drown Me' soft breathy harmonies surround the bewitching lullaby drenched in lapping water, as her pure and gentle voice conjures up witchy imagery over brittle folk strum, stark hand drums and almost orchestral synths. 'Bittersweet' is starker still, setting Rose's soothing tones of anguish and torment amongst a sparse rendering of stark guitar strum and the chirp of birdsong augmented by a tender string score. Lashing rain opens up 'Storm' where in hushed and slightly reverbed spoken tones, Rose casts a magical spell to banish pain amidst gentle cascades of angelic synth swell. That combination of spoken voice, electronics and environmental sounds shares an affinity with the work of Gayle Brogan's Pefkin, another Scottish artist who combines haunting mysticism with electronics and the allure of the landscape. The quiet understated beauty of 'Storm', though, possesses something undeniably haunting infused with a dark beauty.

The eerie horror psychedelic synths and electronics and evocative ghostlike coohs of 'Spirit Flesh' slip into a haunting lullaby filled with baroque arrangements. Like a guitarless Sorrow where chiming keys and ominous strings provide a backdrop to Rose's sensual invocation. Deathbeat pummels lead a merry dance into a deathmarch of twisted stuttered synths and chimes with strings conjuring up a bewitching atmosphere. If 'Spirit Flesh' casts a dark shadow over the polka-dotted colours of Strawberry Switchblade, then 'Gem' evokes Rose's past in both the ether-pop of Sorrow, and the dark folk of Current 93 and especially given those jangle of wind chimes, Death In June, groups associated with the post-industrial underground with whom Rose's enchanting tones sprinkled angelic stardust over their darker obsessions. Dwelling on the sacred power of gemstones it paints a beguiling portrait in a divine arrangement of classical strings and ringing guitar. The patter of hollow folk strings and ominous synth chords lay the groundwork for the harmonium drone of 'Butterfly Hawk' with Rose's pure tones, distant and almost malevolent. It's a portent of doom, complete with whip cracks fashioning Rose's hawk as an evil twin to the falconer of Nico. Owners of The Final Solstice compilation might want to look to the track attributed to Resonance here. Not everything on Far From The Apple Tree is broken and bruised by the ravages of love, 'Waves' unfurls to lapping waves, as guitar shimmer and loose base tones accompany the brittle folk tones, continuing the sea and water based motif, closing the album in hopeful tones, as if renewed and reborn.

It is a soundtrack but even on its own this is a great album of alluring and haunting sounds and lyrics. Grant McPhee's film has been garnering great reviews for both its storyline and layered visual composition and I can't wait to see it. Together with Shawn Pinchbeck, on Far From The Apple Tree, Rose McDowall has delivered another slice of magic. Far From The Apple Tree is available digitally and on vinyl in a limited purple run in an edition of 500 copies, with a CD edition featuring extended versions and an additional track. For more information go to Glass Modern bandcamp