[sic] Magazine

Bracken – High Passes

Yorkshire people, they’re an odd bunch aren’t they? I vividly recall one trip to deepest, darkest West Yorkshire around 16 years ago when I visited a chip shop in Bradford. When asked what I’d like to order, I said that I wanted pie and chips. The lady said that they didn’t serve pies, so I asked where I could buy a pie from; she said that there was a pie shop down the road. I asked if the pie shop sold chips, to which she told me that they didn’t – but that I could return to the chip shop after I’d purchased the pie, by which time my pie would likely have gone stone cold.

I decided that it would be in everyone’s best interests if I opted for fish, chips and peas, which she began wrapping up for me. She then asked if I wanted ‘bits’. “Bits?”, I questioned, as she pointed at a fatty mess of scrap batter in the fish cabinet. “Err… not really, no thanks”, which seemed to bring a chuckle or two. “Salt and Vinegar, love?”, “Yes, please” – at which point she held the fish and chips out in front of me; I just kind of stared at her holding the food in her hands, now somewhat confused. We both stared at each other for a few moments before she said, “Are you going to put your salt and vinegar on?”, “Err… no, I thought you did that”, I said, which seemed to cause a few more giggles. “Anything else, love?”, she asked, to which I replied, “Yes, can I have a couple of baps?”. Seemingly the entire chip shop broke down in laughter at this moment. “Can you point at what you mean?”, she asked, to which I pointed towards a container of baps in the corner. “Ahh, you mean bread cakes?”. “They’re not cakes”, I offered, which only made her laugh even more. In fact, all the staff seemed to be laughing uncontrollably. “I haven’t parked my spaceship outside, you know!!”, I said, “I’ve only travelled seventy miles!!”.

Some of you may be aware of Bracken via the (sadly missed) Leeds-based Hood – or indeed from 2014’s previous Bracken album, Exist/Resist. Bracken is in fact the alter-ego of Chris Adams and this album is arguably his most ambitious release yet. There are 13 tracks in total, spread across 4 sides of vinyl. It’s an expansive album which I find almost impossible to classify (not that I really want to) – but I usually prefer to offer points of reference. I’ve been living with High Passes for several weeks now and I’ve been seriously warming to it. In fact, playing it is akin to putting on a favourite jacket. Like many good records, it takes several auditions to firmly grasp hold of what’s going on. It’s certainly not immediate, but given a few rotations, here’s an album which you’re likely to find yourself immersing in. Take ‘Masked Headlands’, for example – there’s an almost-hypnotic loop over which Adams’ voice gently repeats. “How Is This A Cure?” carries with it a magnetic quality; there’s a dub-like undercurrent gently propelling the music, along with experimental synths and echoing vocals. Similarly, “Raveneser Odd II” is scarily dark. Think “dungeon”. Think “basement dungeon”. In fact, it’s at this point in the album when you realise that this really is bold, intense headphone music and is probably best enjoyed when being played in a darkened room late at night. It’s definitely music to listen to alone, in isolation.

If anything, it’s also an album that becomes progressively darker. For me, that’s one of its key assets. To give you an example, “Ghostly”, the second track here, has an ethnic feel with much more activity than later tracks – particularly with regard to both the percussion and instrumentation. “Branch Hid Sky” is a stunning example of what can be done with just a little – and that’s one of the most beautiful gifts of this album. What I mean is – rather than throwing everything but the kitchen sink at the track, it’s a master-class in layering sounds but not overcooking it. It’s probably the closest we have to a “single” on the album, if such a thing still exists in 2016. But really – who cares about singles when the album’s this good? It almost feels like layers are progressively removed as the album develops, as if to almost fade completely to nothing.

This is rich, intense music that only improves with repeated listens. It absolutely deserves to be listened to.