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Dorset-based Michael Tanner is a protean musician with a rare facility for releasing albums and other miscellaneous sonic projects (under his own name, in various guises that include Plinth, Thalassing, Taskerlands and Cat Lady, or as part of the duo The A. Lords, or the improvisatory ensemble United Bible Studies) with a jaw-dropping frequency whose quantity is, impressively, always matched by artistic quality.

Michael’s predilection for abstracted, psycho-geographic English folk-soundscapes, for dreamlike Mellotron woodwinds, plangent string drones, lambent field recordings and eerie Victorian dulcimers (not to mention the odd heavily deconstructed Fleetwood Mac song…) has inexorably evolved into a distinctive musical vocabulary. Much of his constantly expanding body of work will already be familiar to Second Language devotees.

The debut album by The Cloisters is another fine addition to that imposing oeuvre. Featuring Aine O’Dwyer (United Bible Studies) on harp, Daniel Merrill (Dead Rat Orchestra) on viola, Aaron Martin on cello and Hanna Tuulikki on church harmonium, The Cloisters takes us on a four-leg journey through a pastoral but shaded landscape, pregnant with mystery and nostalgia. Although the album has no core concept, it is a record, Michael explains, partially inspired by childhood memory. “It was recorded in some of the places I grew up in – Symonds Yat, in Herefordshire, and a few Welsh border towns… and was heavily influenced by re-reading Susan Cooper’s Dark Is Rising series of pagan children’s books, with their tales of billowing mists rolling down Welsh mountains.”

Suitably evocative, vérité recordings of genuine rural mystique punctuate the exquisitely elusive music, everything from cooing wood pigeons to distant poachers “firing their guns in the woods during rainfall at midnight.” To similar atmospheric ‘real world’ effect, Hanna Tuulikki’s numinous keyboards were recorded in the smallest church in England, at Lullington, Sussex. Another leitmotiv is Mooch, Michael’s pet cat, who appears at the start and (unexpectedly) at the end of the record. Sadly, she passed away just after the album was mastered. 

The Cloisters, Michael reveals, was conceived during a time of deep personal dissatisfaction with the drone/ambient/classical minimalist ‘scene’ – one seemingly populated by “the same 30 blokes, making the same music in Ableton [loop-based music software], more often than not sporting the same beard. It was made under an awareness that I was lumped in with them, and internalising if/how I was really so different. It became an attempt to see if I could retain the style of music I’ve been making for 12 years now, but still try and get out of the box, so to speak.”

At the very least a hugely successful box-evading exercise, The Cloisters will especially delight those who revelled in the Plinth album Music for Smalls Lighthouse, originally released, in a lavish book format, by Second Language in 2010 – an album whose economic sonic palette was used to similarly poignant affect.

Tracklisting :

1. Riverchrist
2. The Lock Keeper
3. Freohyll Nocturne/Hymn
4. A Pelagic Recital

The Cloisters 'S/T' comes as a 4 track, 41 minutes+ CD album in beautiful concertina sleeve. NOTE : Second Language subscribers will also receive a 6 track, 34 minutes+ CDR of bonus material, 'Little Summer/Little Winter.'