Upwards of Summer - 23 June 2017 - Make It New Records
English songwriter Ralegh Long's second full-length album Upwards of Summer (due out on June 23rd) marks a change of pace. The piano, strings and woodwind of his 2015 debut Hoverance are nowhere to be seen, exchanged for the jangle of chorus guitars, mandolins and anthemic hooks in a thrilling, confident album. Themes of freedom and frustration are wrapped in exhilarating power-pop with magnificently crafted arrangements, neatly combining the fragile pastoral beauty of his previous material with deliciously woozy psychedelic country-rock.
The new album found its gestation during heavy touring in 2016, in a period of change during which Long says he was “unsure if he was even going to carry on making music. I was travelling a lot and simultaneously wrestling with a lot of life choices.’” On a flight back from Japan, Long stumbled upon the 10,000 Maniacs college-rock classic In My Tribe. It set him thinking about the reasons why he started playing music in the first place, his love of jangle-pop, power-pop, and the sounds of the early 90s, bands like 10,000 Maniacs, R.E.M, The Db's, Lloyd Cole, The Triffids, The Reivers, Teenage Fanclub and The Go-betweens. By the time he got back to England and started writing the album he says he just “remembered what it was like to pick up a guitar for the first time, and tapped into that place of instinct.”
Teaming up with producer Margo Broom (Fat White Family, Phobophobes and Goat-Girl), Long cut the album in a week at Margo's Hermitage Works Studios in North London. Long describes it as “the most fun I’ve ever had; I didn't over think, I didn't second guess. I trusted those around me and I trusted myself. It felt like breaking free from all the doubt and frustration of the previous months.”
It was recorded with his touring band, including Hefner's Jack Hayter on Pedal Steel who, alongside Long’s vocal and lyrical tics, represents the most obvious continuation from Hoverance. He was also joined by Will Lamport on drums, Harpal Mudhar on percussion and drums and Richard Ellis on bass, whilst Long played mandolin, guitars and keyboards.
The album features nine new tracks plus one song, “The Combine”, from 2016's E.P We Are in the Fields, re-recorded with a full band. Lyrically Upwards Of Summer deals with themes of change, wanderlust and exhaustion, as Ralegh points out; “The IRS-period R.E.M albums all have subtitles like “file under water” based on their themes. This album would definitely be “file under sleep”'.”
Opener “Take Your Mind Back” sets the scene, located on that flight back from Japan; “Watching the sun rising on a distant curve”. Album highlight “Big August” was a late, largely improvised addition to the album. It presents a Robyn Hitchcock-esque sea of imagery, describing the buzz of summer with; “Bugs the size of my feet / when they're in their shoes”. “Take It” continues the theme of travel in a tale of the unravelling of family dynamics on a plane into Norway, where Long sees “everything reflected in a rivalry”, declaring “you to me are dearer than I let you be / I was pinioned by the voices of conformity”.
By the end of the album, the focus returns home, in the fields of “The Combine” and the plea to “take it back” in “Home”. “Home” sums up the conflicts of the album, of escape and return, youth and age in its opening lines; “There's something inside you, inside the night / a sense of leaving, come back / to an old house, when you were younger.”
Ralegh Long's debut album Hoverance and follow up E.P We Are in the Fields received acclaim from The Guardian, who praised the “demented beauty” of his songs as well as MOJO, who celebrated their “Spooky Pastoralism”. Tracks received heavy radio rotation appearing on BBC 6 Music shows such as Lauren Laverne and Gideon Coe, BBC Scotland, Amazing Radio, as well as German, Spanish and Austrian National Radio, and Rai I in Italy. “The Lizard” from Hoverance and “Morning” from We Are in the Fields, have been streamed over a million times on Spotify. Long spent the summer touring, with many shows in Europe, including Sardinia and Italy, which were hailed by Sky Arts as "calling to mind the atmosphere of Nick Drake".
The first single from the new album, ’Take Your Mind Back’ immediately landed on Spotify’s ‘Indie List and was picked up by Elton John for his Beats1 Radio show, who described it as simply ‘a great song’. With the new album, Ralegh Long taps in to a richly layered vein of emotion and sound, demonstrating the breadth of his interests but also inviting us in to his share in his inner world. From harnessing the spirit of 70s folk, he now tackles a vibrant slant on 80s and 90s alt pop, using a keen cinematic sense of wonder to embrace a more fluid sensibility. Still sensitive and pastoral, the album is imbued with a keen energy that takes his music to a whole new level.
Hoverance - Gare du Nord
Hoverance is the beautifully pastoral debut album from English songwriter Ralegh Long, due for release in April on Gare Du Nord, the record label that he co-runs with fellow musicians Robert Rotifer and Ian Button (Papernut Cambridge/Death in Vegas). Drawing from 1970s influences such as Bill Fay, Nick Drake, Jimmy Webb, and the 70’s indebted Epic Soundtracks, Long has produced a warm and intimate record, bathed in lush orchestral arrangements and underpinned by rich piano tones. The sound is punctuated by pedal steel, used here like a synth, as used to great effect on American Music Club records.
To write the album, Long left London and returned to the surrounding countryside where he grew up. Sitting at a piano overlooking the fields he wrote a debut album suffused with natural imagery and mysticism. He then returned to London and gathered a group of friends to record the album. The cast of collaborators includes Tom Dougall of TOY on guitar, Jack Hayter (ex-Hefner) on pedal steel, string-arranger Louis-Phillipe (El records, The Clientele) and indie-pop orchestra A Little Orchestra.
Although predominantly a guitarist, Long taught himself piano to write the album, finding inspiration in the instrument’s wide harmonic possibilities. He has previously collaborated with the likes of Rose Elinor Dougall and Darren Hayman, and has written a film score for the BAFTA-nominated Black Pond.
He released two well received E.P’s, 2011’s Sprawl and 2012’s The Gift. The latter was described by Gold Flake Paint as “'Like drinking a wine none of us can responsibly afford, this is just...classy.” Some of the songs on these EPs were completely improvised in one take, including the lyrics, melody and chords, in what Howe Gelb calls a ‘Perfect Harvest’. This occurred again on the album with tracks such as “Beginning The World”, which only exists as that one performance, spontaneous, at home, alone in the middle of the night.
Long describes the world he writes about in Hoverance a “liminal kind of countryside, pretty rough and suburban, but countryside nonetheless.” There’s an almost magic-realist sense of nature throughout the record and Long explains: “I have always had a strong connection to the natural world. I think it’s a large part of what I’m trying to express in the shape of songs, in both the writing and the sounds I choose.”
The themes of Hoverance pick up on motifs of the Christian Mystics in their vision of the natural world as a metaphor for another world. At the time of writing the album Long stumbled upon the writings of 20th Century mystic Thomas Merton and was struck above all by his sense of the mystery of the natural world. This sense of mystery in nature is particularly evident in lyrics such as “morning trembling to the thrill of birds in flight” from ‘Song for Matthew’. Long is not the first artist to draw on this kind of syncretic theology – most notably, it hovers in the background of Talk Talk’s Spirit of Eden.
Taken from the first track on the album, ‘Gulls Hovering’, Hoverance is not a word you’ll find in the dictionary, but if you could, it would mean the ‘act of hovering’. As Long explains, ‘hovering between two worlds, the interfusion of the worldly and the not.’ This certainly sums up the ethereal nature of the record. Sensitively executed and utterly exquisite, Ralegh Long has created a fascinating work, worthy of his influences yet truly singular.
"He seems incapable of sitting at a piano and coming up with anything that doesn’t tremble with almost mystical longing ... you’ll be reminded variously of Nilsson, early Todd Rundgren, even Alex Chilton at his most overwrought and wracked." The Guardian (New Band of the Week)
"Wistful and explicitly beautiful, Ralegh Long's songwriting has a richly poetic feel which is continually inspiring." Clash (track premiere)
"Sad, spooky pastoralism of Bill Fay or Nick Drake are touchstones on songs laden with rural imagery and dexterous melody." Mojo 4*s
"As well as capturing the mood of the countryside perfectly Long also reveals himself here as being a songwriter of great quality." Neon Filler 9/10
"fresh, simple songs." Music OMH 4/5