I first heard Richard Buckner in 1999. A friend had given me a loan of Bloomed. An album he hadn’t actually bought. See, what happened, he explained, was that he’d bought a Peter Bruntnell album. However, at some point after handing that CD to the dude at the till and the dude handing him a bag the CD was switched. My friend didn’t notice for a few days. It’s really great, he assured me. “Really great”. He wasn’t wrong.
Anyway, since then I’ve been hooked. Buckner’s music has evolved since his debut – his country folk leanings making way for a rather complex and intricate web of sounds and textures. A very specific blend of Americana. His fairly straightforward tales of yearning, love and regret replaced with seemingly abstract but affecting thoughts. On Surrounded, his words unravel over layers of acoustic guitars, a cacophony of intricate rhythms and effects that sometimes appear to be jarring against each other but somehow always work (like on Mood or Cut). His voice like the splintered bark of the hooker oak tree his hopes were hanging from.
I bought Surrounded on the day of release – stopping in at the ‘high street record store’ on my way home from work and handing over £16.99 of my hard earned cashpennies. Cashpennies well spent. It’s a lush and focussed album that flows like liquid and swirls like smoke. Or something. I don’t quite know, but the man done gone bottled lightning and threw it out for mixing and suchlike as soon as he wrapped it up. I suspect that was to prevent the kind of shenanigans that surrounded his previous album, Our Blood. That one was recorded and lost a couple of times among tales of laptop theft, computer meltdowns, and even a murder investigation (seriously – a body with a severed head was found not to far from his home – he spoke about this with good humour when I caught him play with Sacri Cuori a few years ago). No chances of stuff like that getting in the way of Surrounded. No sir.
Side A kicks off with the title-track; a song that draws circles while Buckner’s voice rises up from the warmth of the acoustic guitar before that pretty brilliant double tracked lift and harmony. When You Tell Me How It Is kicks in like a dusty old computer warming up. Complete with flickering hard-drive – buzzing and whatnot when Buckner announces “it was just like that a crowd broke through somewhere outside. Did they get to you?”. The driving acoustic guitar of Beautiful Question and Foundation, while furnished with the sound of the new toys, are typical of Buckner’s post 2000 output. Portrait is Buckner at his sparse best; his vocal timing and phrasing typical of his best work on Devotion and Doubt or Meadow when he asks: “can you stop me from watching? The only thing we were pretending to say forgotten in moments I tried to keep locked in your portrait”.
Side B is where Buckner gets his money’s worth from his new toys (did I mention he creates loads of noise with an electric auto-harp and octave pedal?). Things kick off with the haunted gothic-trance of Mood, and although Go is much like Beautiful Question and Foundation, you’re soon peering through the swirling layers of the noise-storm for the closing salvo of Cut and Lean-To. Cut is the highlight for this cat, though. Often unnerving, it’s a perfect slice of gothic-Americana-trance music. The grooves and the textured hums complimented with pulses, drones and alluring melodies. Not to mention Buckner’s voice.
It’s probably not everyone’s cup of coffee, but Surrounded really is a pretty tremendous record full of missed moments, things said too late, and overlooked bits and pieces. All whiskey-soaked. Or probably marinated. With some splintered bark and honey, of course.
It’s a really nice record too. The threading design on the front looking pretty swell and really representing the work wonderfully. The inner sleeve is made of card and includes, among other things like credits etc, the lyrics for those who like to read and sing along. Good luck with that, though; the text in red is the lines he missed out, showing that it’s essentially a continuous prose.