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Review: 'Johnston, James / Steve Gullick'
'We Travel Time'   

-  Label: 'God Unknown Records'
-  Genre: 'Folk' -  Release Date: '26th February 2021'

Our Rating:
As collaborations go, this is a particularly tantalising one. Steve Gullick is best known for his photography, shooting bands for NME, Melody Maker and Sounds in the 1980s and 1990s, with some – and it’s a phrase I use as rarely as possible – truly iconic images to his credit. In his lesser-known career as a music-maker in his own right, he’s released 7 albums as Tenebrous Liar since 2005, as well as working with James Johnson in the 90s as …blender. Johnson himself has enjoyed a career that began with Gallon Drunk and subsequently found him working with PJ Harvey and also having a stint with Nick Cave and the Bad Seeds, whole also including visual art.

The pair’s coming together again for ‘We Travel Time’ is a welcome one, and one which exists out of time, but also is perfectly timed, conveying as it does a certain restlessness beneath a calm surface. Downtempo and downbeat, this collection of songs is introverted, contemplative, bleak.

As an early riser, I often find that the time immediately after dawn really is the best part of the day, and it’s a dappled drop of piano and soft, graceful strings that introduce the album in a soothing and tranquil fashion with ‘First Light’. ‘Seven Seas’, the first song to feature vocals, is a sparse acoustic work, with scraping guitar and strings, forging a post-rock vibe but with an avant-garde edge. With ‘Stormy Sea’, and ‘We sail’, there’s something of a seafaring theme to the album, with the latter being more of a sea burial than a sea shanty.

Despite a slightly crunchy picked guitar, there’s something reminiscent of early Leonard Cohen about the reflective ‘When I’m Down’, while ‘Big Star Falls’ plunges into a deep, dark place, with lugubrious, low piano and mournful strings.

It’s the tile track that draws the curtain on the album with a vaguely psychedelic-tinged, almost pastoral folk arrangement, tailing off not on a low not, but a dreamy and ambiguous one, which seems most fitting. With its spartan lyrics, ‘We Travel Time’ is hazy, dazy, and it’s difficult to know exactly how it leaves you feeling – a little lost, a little spaced, a little detached, maybe. And herein lies its artistic success: there is nothing definite or distinct, concrete or certain about it – and much as we seek clarity and certainty to pin our hopes and futures to, the fact is that nothing is clear or certain, and we must learn to swim in a sea of ambiguity. ‘We Travel Time’ is an album which shows us how to navigate that ambiguity as it winds its singular path.

  author: Christopher Nosnibor

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