Padang Food Tigers – God’s Plenty (Shhpuma, 2021)

We went canoeing on the River Severn last month, along a quaint 14 mile stretch passing woodlands and sandstone cliffs and steam railways. Aside from the modern bridges and riverside static caravans that punctuate the banks periodically, it has a distinct feeling of being out of time, caught in its own little bucolic world that moves to its own whims.

Its pastoral charms are only enhanced by the views from the centre of the channel itself; when not navigating the bouncier passages or digging in a bit deeper where the current slows, one can enjoy sights and sensations that you’d never get from the side, or even overhead. No, there’s something in being at the waterline, being part of the river itself, that makes tracing kingfisher flights or counting herons mallards or musing over names of wildflowers something different, something special.

It’s a simple pleasure but that’s what nature provides, an innocent bounty whose unregulated spaces allow us to indulge our genetic memories of green and the soft slosh and slop of moving water. I’m not a religious person, but it’s difficult to deny the inherent spirituality that imbibes these places and resonates with us. The gentility and sweetness, peacefulness, in that reintegration with nature.

It’s not too grandiose to claim that this feeling is what Padang Food Tigers seem to capture in their records, and in particular God’s Plenty. The folk-ambience brought to bear has to my mind a distinct Americana to it, all slide guitars and lap steels that just evoke lackadaisical New World landscapes in particular; the irony there of course being that PDT are British.

It’s also woven into an interesting tapestry, one that never settles into cliche or obviously trite passages: opener and sophomore “Comedown Peculiar” into “Natchez Trace” sell counterpoint right from the start. The former emanates on woozy drones that allow free reign to the tumbling, freewheeling guitar chords, whilst the latter sinks immediately into far more constrained and plaintive embraces. The strings are winnowed and thinned, scraping by like these Autumnal days versus more luxuriant Summer freedoms.

Indeed it’s not even all electro-acoustic Folk twiddlings, with “Cask of Amontillado” (and to a lesser extent the gorgeous sigh of “Dial You A Wonderhorse”) buzzing with detuned radio static incursions and jangling spectral somethings cutting through the organ sustains; injections of modernity perhaps? Or something more primitively supernatural more appropriate to the realms carved?

As “Hissy Cups” moves from quietened soundscapes of interlude, distantly reminiscent of trainlines and other industrial humming calling us back to the other place, “Questionable Runes” slides in with snippets of familial life and imperfect chords struggling to find balance. But these uncertainties are quickly dropped away when faced with the seminal closer, bookending with its suspensory drone and casual strings, then haunting with field recordings of some slow-rhythm ritualistic chanting. It sounds distant, dream-like, a shamanic call that prays for return.

God’s Plenty doesn’t ever really bring much in the way of certainty, preferring to ensure its gentle geographies remain devoid of boundaries and allowing for the overlap of the human experience into virginal space. Mostly it could be said to croon with a sort of wishful air that seems to mourn the loss of places and opportunities for us to simply “be”, or that could just be my cravings as we slip quickly towards the year’s end.