Wil Bolton – February Dawn (Eilean Records, 2016)


Given our temperate climate in the UK, most months of the year are peculiar in their weather and have the potential to be either glorious or horrendous, or both. February is no exception of course, and because of its promise of a nearing Spring it’s a month spent in anticipation of Life’s return and longer days once more. As Bolton explores the faded beauty of the countryside-in-waiting on his latest record February Dawn, we find ourselves caught not only in his yearnings of warmth but similarly trapped in the depressing obfuscations of the continuing misery of Winter.

Some tracks are outwardly pleasant and revel in the nicety of the weather on the rare occasion that it chooses to cooperate; “Coastal Glow” is the most obvious moment of brightness here, losing us in luxurious poolings of light guitar and watery field recordings that possess the same deceptive siren’s call of the ocean in its quieter moments. Actually it’s probably the finest moment of the record, certainly the most serene and at ease. Somewhat later on the lightness returns in “Wishing Well”‘s oscillating drone swells, pulsating with an optimistic aura as watery swashes drip out of the developing birdsong in these sunnier moments, reversed guitar tones smearing out into reverie. The closer echoes some similar sentiments as well as we walk through “Honeywood” and all its little streams and rivulets, these little signs of continual life amidst the towering lifelessness of the surrounding trees through which a pale Sun shines.

February is a dark month though, and Bolton won’t let us forget that. Opener “Shells And Flints” takes a stroll down down the seaside one Winter’s day and loses us in mesmerisingly grey passages of ethereal synth drones and crisp guitar pickings; everything’s sluggish and dim, turning in slow motion without energy or purpose. The bleak lifelessness extends onto land with the appropriately grimly titled “Dead Branches” taking the lead at the heart of the record by dousing us in jumbled, disjointed guitars, overcast drones and skittering glitches before turning to its bigger and more encompassing cousin “Blue Field Balcony” that collapses on us in claustrophobic thrumming airs and distant, hopeless bass guitar melancholia. Even the title track hovers in uncertainty, the darkness failing to lift over the English countryside, muffling its organic orchestra in favour of warbling acoustic movements that slowly decay as they burn off right at its conclusion.

We always know that the seasons will end as they cycle endlessly on but there’s always that uncertainty, like some innate, primal fear carried forwards from deep in our evolutionary past that nags at us and worries that this dark heart of the year will drag on and on and carry its frequently grey negativity onwards with it. But we know that’s untrue, and we see the signs everywhere beginning to develop through each of  February’s new dawns that light and life are on the cusp of their return, and Bolton seems to have captured that tipping point into the new year proper with effortless grace.