Music for Music: Demons and Angels
The Wood Demons: Rare and Welcome
By Dan Ursini © 2020
I am always excited about debut albums by bands which have been around for a while. The best of them include songs with the seasoned strength that results from thorough road-testing. The way that the songs sound on the album truly is how they sound best. That is so important with original compositions—which is certainly the case for each of the seven strong tracks comprising Angels of Peckham Rye by British prog rock band The Wood Demons. This is a formidable debut.
The album’s title alludes to a vision that the poet William Blake had as a child; it sets the tone for the intriguing range of subjects of the songs. Simon Carbery’s “Arithmomania” articulates the peculiar and oddly productive duality within the mind of the Austrian composer Anton Bruckner. Though troubled by a counting disorder, he created symphonies conveying visions of transcendence. “Arithmomania” dramatizes the psychic split between the rigid, nervous rhythms of obsession and the expansive calm of the spiritual realm. The whole of it is heightened by the reverb guitar and note-perfect vocal by Carbery, by the first of a series of faultless performances by the rhythm section of John Silver on bass and Ed Konargyris on drums, and by a series of compassionate instrumental solos. The result is a sonic portrait whose completeness is a signature of The Wood Demons.
Their sound is achieved through the wise and deep integration of influences which Carbery says includes “classical, progressive, folk, rock, jazz, film music, electronica, psychedelia.” Three of its five members regularly contribute songs. And, according to multi-instrumentalist/vocalist, Rick Startin, “It ends up being a very much collective effort with ideas being worked out in rehearsals and a kind of ‘group soul’ emerging.”
The intriguing “Big Game Fishing” has strong folk influences. A highlight is multi-instrumentalist Startin’s use of what he calls “a real, nuts-and-bolts Mellotron.” He remarks that “it worked beautifully and conjured up expansive ocean moods but with a slightly ominous and melancholy note.” Midway through, the music opens into an extended expression of serene ineffable mystery with affecting playing by Startin, bassist Silver and violinist Naomi Belshaw.
The album includes some fine instrumentals; one of them is “The Odd Particle,” with excellent melodic bass by Silver, evocative layered keyboards by Startin, a heartfelt, and a solo by Belshaw. Here and elsewhere, Ed Kontargyris plays challenging drum parts with great precision and energy. “Interminable Beige Thing” is a duo piece with Startin on synthesizer and Belshaw on violin. It gives her an opportunity to create a beautifully constructed solo which she plays with a deep sense of grace, excellent phrasing, and a rich, appealing tone. Belshaw remarks, “Many of these melodies come from jamming sessions in rehearsals or moments in the recording studio where the sound of the band in the moment crystallizes my expressive vision. That is certainly the case with ‘Interminable Beige Thing.’ This was recorded from one improvisational take where everything just fell into place. As soon as Rick and I finished the take we knew that was the one.”
The title track opens with a dramatic introduction based on an unusual scale played by Carbery on guitar and Belshaw on violin. It is remindful of one of their songs on YouTube, ”Indian Summer.” The vocal showcases the exceptional musicality of Carbery’s voice, outstanding ensemble playing, and strong soloing. Throughout this album, The Wood Demons show a marvelous facility for music that is hard hitting and emotional, yet quiet and elegant. There is a scope of vision present that is alert to the need for both. Especially in this era of rigid polarization of every sort, music which works both ways like that is rare and welcome and inspiring.
“Arithmomania” at Soundcloud
Photo Credits: Dirk Seyfried
Dan Ursini and his wife Valerie live in Oak Park, Illinois. Over the years he has done many kinds of writing. Ursini served as the first resident playwright for the Steppenwolf Theatre of Chicago (1978-1983); he worked for ten years as a Contributing Editor for Puerto Del Sol magazine; he wrote performance art pieces presented at Chicago venues as Club Lower Links and Club Dreamerz. Ursini wrote radio theatre presented on NPR in the early 1990s. Throughout all this, he has worked full-time at the Law Library at DePaul University where for a decade he also wrote articles for Dialogue, the DePaul law school’s alumni publication . In addition, he was active for some years as a bass guitarist in various Chicago blues/gospel/funk/lounge configurations. Currently Ursini is working on his latest novel. A play he wrote with Robert Rothman, A Mensch Among Men, a fictionalized account of real-life Jewish Chicago-area gangsters, recently had two staged readings in Chicago. Dan can be reached at: firstname.lastname@example.org