Those expecting Aerial Days to be a proper follow-up to Songs of Green Pheasant’s self-titled 2005 debut might be somewhat disappointed. This EP is essentially a sort of clearinghouse for Duncan Sumpner (who records under the Songs of Green Pheasant moniker along with various collaborators), representing material that was recorded at various times between 2002 and 2005. It’s difficult to tell, exactly, which tracks were recorded when, or which tracks represent a more nascent version of Songs of Green Pheasant, as all of the songs are wreathed in a lo-fi haze that purports naïveté and rawness. Which, of course, is all part of the charm.
But there are certainly moments of unevenness throughout the EP, which does reveal that Sumpner was still figuring things out while recording these tracks. For example, the broken, distorted guitar that lurches forth in the final moments of “Remembering And Forgetting,” the extra-long denouement of “Stars Form Birds” (which sounds lovely in its own right but seems a bit awkward simply tacked onto the end of another track), or the meandering midsection of “Wintered,” which gets lost amidst whirling whistles and synths.
All that being said, however, Aerial Days is still full of tiny shimmering moments of beauty.
Sumpner’s folk-pop draws equally well from the likes of Nick Drake, Talk Talk, Hood, and Flying Saucer Attack, drizzling nostalgia-inducing feedback and distortion over airy acoustic pop songs while Sumpner’s voice drifts and sighs off in the distance. “Pink By White” is one of the more upbeat songs on the EP, even verging on peppy in a few places thanks to Sumpner’s layered vocals and silvery guitar melodies. “Wolves Amongst Snowmen” drifts a little further afield into Flying Saucer Attack territory, back when David Pearce was in a more pastoral frame of mind.
The aforementioned “Stars Form Birds” might end a little unevenly, but the first half is pure magic. While much of Sumpner’s output conjures up images of fog-enshrouded British countrysides, here the imagery is of a considerably more Oriental bent, or a Miyazaki bent to be precise. The clattering, chiming percussion (which seems part gamelan, part music box), plucked strings, and playful piano sounds just like something Totoro and his playmates might bang out in while sitting amongst the limbs of their favorite camphor tree.
“Wintered” benefits greatly from Jonathan Gill’s “spectral guitar,” which coats the song in a drizzly haze that makes it sound as if Sumper is slowly turning to ice as the song progresses; quite appropriate for a song dealing with the loss of youthful faith.
The EP winds down with “Brody Jacket,” a track that is both its eeriest and sparsest, as well as one of its best. Layers of sparse guitar slowly feel each other out, reverberating against the empty space and turning about in forlorn melodies. Until, that is, Clive Scott’s gorgeous trumpet emerges overhead like a soft, golden sunrise. Chimes and bells being ringing out, causing the song to take on a brief lilting tone. It’s a beautiful little send-off for the listener, satisfying as well as causing some eager expectation for whatever Sumpner does next.