Caught by the River

Laura Cannell, Simultaneous Flight Movement

Adelle Stripe | 6th October 2016


Laura Cannell, Simultaneous Flight Movement (Brawl)
Released 21 October. Pre-order here.

A review by Adelle Stripe.

Simultaneous Flight Movement is Laura Cannell’s third album on Brawl Records. Her previous records, Beneath Swooping Talons and Quick Sparrows over the Black Earth, featured in various end-of-year polls including The Wire, MOJO and The Guardian.

Cannell is clearly an artist who straddles the contemporary/classical avant-garde and the disparate reaches of folk, ambient and experimental genres: she has appeared at ATP, Café Oto, The Barbican, and has recently collaborated with This Heat’s Charles Hayward, Aidan O’Rourke (LAU) and Richard Dawson. Early Music also features within her latest release, and is clearly heard in ‘A New Theory of Eclipse’, which uses elongated drone-strings – layered and fractured in echoes that weave and thread into each other, a palimpsest of the flight paths etched into the album’s artwork.

Described as ‘minimalist chamber music’ there is use of double recorders and overbowed fiddle (Cannell is an accomplished player of both instruments) throughout these fourteen tracks, which were recorded live in one take inside the 19th century Southwold Lighthouse in Suffolk. There is a strong sense of the flattened landscape, migrating flocks and stinging north-easterly winds in her compositions, evocatively capturing the desolate edgelands of England’s east coast, where sound mirrors, war bunkers and acres of bleached marram grass face out towards the sunken remains of medieval towns and villages long-since washed away by the sea.

The resonance and shape of the recording space is reflected in these semi-improvised pieces, which spiral between cantigas, harmonics and liturgical music, collectively creating a patchwork of baroque-infused drones that are at once definitively contemporary and historic in the same breath. ‘Fragments from Summer Saltings’ summons the spirit of the fisher lasses who gutted, smoked and salted the daily catch into barrels, while subtly referencing shanties, tidal rhythms and traditional folk songs. A sense of sadness and lament runs though many of these compositions, with ‘You Have Departed’ reflecting the sense of separation, waiting and loss experienced in the bleak winter months by sailors’ brides. Gale force eight and ice on the deck, the long wait by the harbour gates at each high tide for a boat that will never return.

The North Sea’s influence filters through ‘Interrelation of Diverse Emotions’, and the listener can almost imagine the ketch fleets rolling out towards Dogger Bank before dawn, into the dark winter, guided only by the beam of the rotating lighthouse lamp, and the hope of calm waters past Cromer and beyond. Pre-Bronze Age, this was the piece of land that connected Britain to Scandinavia; trawlermen have since found the skeletons of mammoths, sabre-toothed tigers and entire trees on the seabed in their rising nets. They often pull up peat too – a reminder of the fertile land that once grew beneath them.

Cannell’s contemporary recordings in this new release are a distinctive reminder of past and present and, perhaps most tellingly, the album was recorded on June 23rd: EU referendum day. Its defining themes of migration and the borders between history and the now are acutely observed and perfectly rendered. In time Simultaneous Flight Movement may well prove to be one of the defining albums of 2016.


Laura Cannell and Marisa Anderson play a Caught by the River night at The Forge, Camden on Tuesday 25 October. More info here.

Adelle Stripe on Caught by the River/ on Twitter