What follows was originally written for the vinylvinylvinyl.ie website. It was supposed to be a review, but I’ve never written about music beofre, so instead, it’s a rambling story of my discovery of what has become a favourite artist…
Occasionally, Facestagramsapp’s data-hungry algorithm, that knows more about me than I know about myself, works in my favour. When it’s working against me, it’ll give clues to my wife about her birthday surprise that I’ve been looking for on-line, but on others, it’ll know that I’m someone who lives in Ireland that buys records, and so will recommend a new account on similar lines.
Back in March, the algorithm was behaving, and Dave Redfearn’s new VinylVinylVinyl.ie project popped up in my Instagram feed. Being a long way from Dublin and Cork, I rely on mail order for my vinyl supplies and since the travesty that is Brexit came into effect, bringing with it shipping delays and seemingly random import charges, I’ve been buying most of my records from Germany both to avoid duties and because many of the artists that I’m looking to buy aren’t available over here.
A couple of messenger chats with Dave about the VVV project and I realised that I was pretty close to his target demographic, and the kind of music he was going to be stocking was stuff that was right up my straße. I also learnt that he lived in a place called Bastardstown and suggested that Bastardstown Vinyl might be better name for the shop.
The second post on vinylvinylvinyl.ie’s nascent Instagram account featured a record by Craven Faults, an artist that I’d not heard of, but on Dave’s recommendation (and because the cover looked good) I investigated. What followed was at least a month of listening to nothing else…
The Craven Faults are a series of three geological anomalies that run across Yorkshire, just south of the Dales National Park; if you’ve seen Malham Cove, you’re seen what the Craven Faults can do.
Craven Faults is also the perfect name for this most-‘Yorkshire’ of musical projects, and responsible for some of the most captivating music that I’ve heard in a while.
And it’s the only name we can use here because the person, or people, that are actually behind the project is something of a mystery. Whilst many folks don’t seem to like the idea of an artist being anonymous, I find it refreshing in an age of the influencer and on-line celebrity, who seem to have no talent other than a complete absence of self-respect. As long as the mystery element isn’t over-played, it allows the music to be judged for what it is, rather than for who made it.
I reckon it’s actually fun to imagine who might be behind Craven Faults; it’s clearly someone who has a deep affection for the county that they celebrate at every step. I like to imagine that the owner of the fingers that we occasionally see plugging in patch cables or twiddling knobs on ancient synthesisers on the CV Instagram feed is in fact Geoffrey Boycott or Alan Bennett. Or how about Patrick Stewart?*
If you read about Craven Faults music elsewhere you’ll find plenty of use of words like ‘hypnotic’, ‘mesmeric’ and ‘sprawling’ but I’d say these tell only part of the tale. Let me try and describe how they sound, but only after a short disclaimer…
Since I first discovered that music wasn’t just the audio-wallpaper that came out of the radio at work, I’ve been something of an ‘indie-kid’. Music for me has usually been made by people with guitars and drums. Things were strummed, plucked and hit, and often, someone would add their voice to proceedings. While I can’t do any of these things beyond a couple of guitar chords (I never made it past F) and singing ‘Different Drum’ in the shower, these noises made sense. I could relate to them. I could understand how these sounds were made. Even as my tastes evolved and I began to explore modern-classical music, pianos, violins and cellos all still worked on a similar principal.
Music made with electronics was a mystery. It somehow seemed like cheating; like a simple thing to do, especially when The Chemical Brothers could drive 120,000 people wild as they headlined Glastonbury with just a pair of laptops and a table with some knobs on it!
But in recent years, and especially during our recent period of isolation, I’ve grown to appreciate these electronic sounds and can now see that they can carry just as much emotion and feeling as any other form of music. It accounts for almost everything I buy these days, but I still have no idea how it is made…
So anyway, back to Craven Faults…
The reason that some of the adjectives that I listed earlier are used to describe their music are, in part at least, due to the lengths of many of the tracks (a quick check on Tidal tells me that their shortest track is 7’55”, and longest 26’05”. The boxset CD of the first album runs at over 200 minutes!). A couple of early EPs contain two or three tracks but both run to 40 minutes, and unless you’re listening carefully, it might appear that not a whole lot happens during that runtime.
Allow me to guide you through an example… The first track on the ‘Erratics and Unconformities’ album that Dave was advertising, was the first that I explored – Vacca Wall (it’s a mysterious and ancient row of standing stones near Otley). In Yorkshire.
The track clocks in at 17 minutes and 37 seconds, and if you listened to a ten second slice from minute five and then another from minute 15, there might be little apparent difference, but by way of an example of how Craven Faults tracks work, here’s what unfolds during that time:
0′ – The track opens with two rapidly alternating notes that fade in. It sounds like a machine is generating these in almost some ‘standby’ state, and has perhaps been generating them for an hour, or a week before a musician even entered the room. These two notes alone bring to mind a hillside stream, running consistently. Relenetlessly. Forever.
1′ – Almost imperceptibly, additional notes are appearing in and around (the panning and positioning of each note is fascinating in its own right) those original two. Again, to a casual listener it might appear to be repeating the same pattern, but like that flowing stream, on closer inspection, there is subtle variation and constant change.
1’30” – A massive, deep bass sound begins to repeat in-time to our original two notes. It is ominous. It’s the clouds gathering overhead.
4’30 – Wait, where did that drum sound come from? Craven Faults seem to do this all the time. We settle in to a pattern and the cascade of notes begins to take shape, and then, from the shadows, a new element appears. And is that a piano?
6′ – That drum sound is now our footsteps as we quicken the pace to escape the inevitable rain.
6’30” – While we were listening to the drum, that bass beat has doubled its tempo to keep up, and synth loops are flashing past. It’s a strange sensation. We’re gathering momentum. We’re an unstoppable force. And yet those original two notes are keeping the same pace as they started out.
10′ – By now, it’s all going on. From those simple beginnings and addition of just a few layers, the whole has become greater than the sum of its parts. But let’s relax into this and take a few minutes to listen to those various elements, one at a time, while ignoring our quickening pulse.
11′ – Suddenly, those two bass notes that have been with us for so long reverse, we’re momentarily thrown off balance as we adapt and our horizon opens up as we crest the hill we’ve been climbing. The landscape is laid out at our feet and we can enjoy the view.
14′ – That synth line goes up an octave or two. We take a lungful of fresh air and are exhilarated.
15′ – A church bell tolls in the valley (or dale) below us (don’t worry, this isn’t some naff, Spinal Tap bell but a far cooler, electronic equivalent) and we realise the time. The layers fall away to leave us exhausted from our efforts and a long way from home. It’s been a rush.
If you’ve ever heard Lubomyr Melnyk’s ‘continuous music’ where he plays piano at upto 19 notes per second, then you are perhaps prepared for the complexity of these seventeen and a half minutes. While it might be a machine that is making the noises, rather than a hammer on a string, the amount of detail and the positioning required for every element here is what fascinates me about this music, and why it has such a powerful effect on anyone willing to listen closely to it.
The tracks don’t all follow the same pattern, but often build in a similar way. Every track is dense, complex and rewards this careful listening (ideally with headphones). They often feature live instruments too, but usually playing a supporting role to the analogue equipment.
And it’s not just the music that’s so carefully created. The two albums (2019’s ‘Erratics & Unconformities’ and 2020’s ‘Enclosures’) and three EPs all share a common, consistent design and aesthetic, provided by the fabulous Split design house in Leeds (Yorkshire).
The packaging, photography, track titles, font choice and even the sleeve and insert paper choice all add to the whole, providing an example of why people still buy physical (and especially vinyl) copies of records. The sleeves of the vinyl versions of the EPs all open along the ‘top’ edge, meaning that either side can be the front, and each release is presented with black and white (analogue I’m guessing) pictures of the Yorkshire landscape. Indeed the repress of ‘Erratics & Unconformities’ comes with a full-sized, 20 page photography album of these scenes (or ‘parcels’) that confirm beyond any doubt that might have remained as to the setting and origin of this music.
The track titles all refer to places, rock formations, mysterious earthworks or components of long abandoned rural heavy industry. In fact, give me a mug of (Yorkshire) tea, half a pack of Digestives and the Landranger for Blubberhouses and Harrogate, and I’ll have the song titles for the next release in no time.
Both the music and its presentation have an artistic attention to detail that I can’t get enough of. That said, this is music made on a room-sized assembly of ageing wiring, transistors and capacitors. Occasionally, some component buried in this mass will buzz or crackle and a beat will be missed (literally), but this only adds to the analogue feel and it’s connection to nature and the landscape.
If this music was clinically-clean and shinily-produced, it wouldn’t have a hope of making me feel like I’m sitting in the remains of lead mine’s crushing mill, eeking the dregs from my Thermos, in a wet pair of walking boots.
But Craven Faults does, and that’s a good thing.