Monday 6 March 2023

Burgundy Grapes - Quadrella (2023)

Country: Greece
Style: Folk Rock
Rating: 7/10
Release Date: 24 Feb 2023
Sites: Bandcamp | Facebook | Official Website

This must be the quietest album I've reviewed yet at Apocalypse Later but it's a damn good one, a core of soft folky acoustic guitars surrounded by fascinating sounds from a variety of instruments played by guests. Burgundy Grapes ares at heart a duo, George Kolyvas and Alexandros Miaoulis, who don't list what they play, beyond those guitars and presumably the drums, as nobody else has a credit for that. They may well play more between them, but guests add wilder instrumentation to the mix too maintain a progressive edge: a double bass here, an organ there, even theremin or stylophone when needed.

The base sound is folk rock, often with a psychedelic angle, as if they recorded this in a park in San Francisco while under the influence of acid rather than at home in Athens, Greece. It's very quiet, as if every musician is deliberately playing their respective instruments very softly and trying not to breathe to put off the extra-sensitive microphones, but that doesn't mean that it's without an intricacy. It must be the easiest album in the world to put on and automatically like as background music, but it's well worth a deep focus from the listener to catch everything they're doing. All of it is engaging and fascinating.

Tickle Road is a soft opener, but Possibility Song is a darker counterpoint, quietly threatening and making us aware of our surroundings. Wander to Stride is more overtly folk, but it's not pastoral, even if I could absolutely imagine a flute soaring over it. Instead of adding that element, it drifts into Pink Floyd territory, if you remember the Meddle album. There are hints of organ and double bass that remain tantalising. While a gentle riff repeats over and over like waves, I was listening to the chimes or xylophone or whatever's tinkling in the foreground, almost as a solo.

Sometimes there seems to be an organic flow to the guitars, as if this was aimed at anyone who's into the first couple of Leonard Cohen albums but doesn't want to hear his poetry, focused instead on his rippling guitarwork. It reminded me of Philip Glass's Glassworks album, merely slowed and transcribed for acoustic guitar. Initially, the tone felt like acoustic Wishbone Ash, but that goes as quickly as it arrives, replaced by the subtly psychedelic folk angle. Dream Echo has African guitar melodies, again slowed down, but overlaid with a lap steel straight out of country music. I heard a lot of Norman Blake here too, but, yes indeed, slowed down and softened. Burgundy Grapes don't want us to get up and dance. They want us to sit around and listen, maybe join in.

What surprised me the most was how few of these eleven pieces of music feel like they could have been the backing tracks to singer/songwriter songs. Crystal Friend certainly does and I kept trying to imagine what sort of unique voice would surely join in any moment now. However, this remains entirely instrumental. The title track is another example, though I felt Crystal Friend would work with a tender female voice but Quadrella a more raucous male one, maybe not a full on Tom Waits but on the way towards it. He would certainly respond to the carnival beat and the theremin that kicks in too for an enticing touch.

But then we're back to pieces of music that feel like they were always instrumentals and couldn't be anything but. Sure, the baritone sax of Thodoris Rellos on Curtains does kinda sorta take the place of what a vocal might do, but it's meant to be instrumental. Most of them are driven by the guitars but a piano takes over on Green Door, almost duetting for a while and eventually taking over the piece. It's yet another reminder that this would work effortlessly as background music, just something a little breezy and natural to lighten your day, but it also rewards the listener who pays attention to see what's going on.

And that's where I'll leave this, because I have to move on to another album, as easy as it would be to just let this play out the week on repeat. I'd say that you need to be in the mood for this, but I'd correct that to say that, if you're not in the mood for this when you press play, you will be soon into it. It's a refresher of an album. Take one after lunch and it'll better your day.

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