Duncan Sumpner recorded the initial tracks that would result in Songs of Green Pheasant during the summer of 2002 on a 4‑track recorder in his kitchen. However, the result is not the sort of lo-fi recording experience that you might expect. Rather, Songs of Green Pheasant is an atmospheric, “wide open spaces” sort of folk-influenced recording, one that touches on Nick Drake as much as it does Flying Saucer Attack’s pastoral phases and the sort of melancholy pop that Hood has been doing for years now.
Given that Songs of Green Pheasant was recorded during the summer months, it’s not surprising that the disc is shot through with sounds of summers. Or rather, the sounds of summers long gone, sounds that have obtained a golden patina of nostalgia due to one too many barely-there memories. The entire album is coated in a nostalgic haze made up of tape hiss, clicks, and buzzing.
While audiophiles might be sure to nitpick Sumpner’s recording methods to death, the imperfections serve only to elaborate the warmth and humanity throughout the album’s tracks (as is usually the case with these sorts of things).
The primary instrumentation here is just Sumpner’s delicately-picked acoustic guitar and clear, clean voice. However, Sumpner uses the trusty old 4‑track to great effect, incorporating layer upon layer in each songs. There are the multi-tracked harmonizing vocals that lend “I Am Daylights” and “Nightfall” a 1970s-ish “AM Gold” feeling, or the flute-like drones and dulcimer tones that sweep through “Nightfall” conjuring up all manner of misty English moors and highlands. And while the album is largely percussion-free, muffled percussion shuffles through “The Wraith of Loving” as Sumpner’s wistful vocals, picked guitars, and static-covered radio signals drift all around.
If there’s one complaint about Songs of Green Pheasant, it’s that the whole thing does become rather slight and superficially pretty at times. There’s no denying that Sumpner’s songs are quite lovely, but it’s often difficult to tell one from another. Of course, it could be argued that might be the album’s greatest strength — that it is more of a “mood” album that one necessarily concerned with your typical hallmarks of “strong” songwriting. That the primary goal is to ensure that all of the sounds blend together in a manner conducive to nostalgic remembrances and wistful looks back on yesteryear.
Even so, there are certain moments that stand out from the surrounding material. While the entire album has a melancholy cast to it, there’s something especially doleful about “Hey, Hey, Wilderness,” in the way that the electric guitar flourishes gracefully rise up from the acoustic’s as Sumpner intones what is most likely yet another regretful ode to some lover lost to the cruel ways of time and chance.
“Truth But Not Fact” contains some vaguely oriental filigrees that add to the song’s fragility and, as odd as this may sound, seem vaguely Joe Hisaishi-esque. And album closer “From Here to Somewhere Else” moves at the kind of funereal, twilight-filled, drone-laden pace that hasn’t been heard since Labradford decided to call it quits.
While this might be a “summer” album, it does feel far more appropriate to listen to it during late October. The fall will always bask in summer’s afterglow, and as such, will always be the most nostalgic of seasons, the one most appropriate for looking back with an odd mixture of satisfaction and regret. And Songs of Green Pheasant makes for a fitting soundtrack addition for the season. It’s not nearly as perfect as it could be, but in strange ways, the album’s awkward-yet-earned shortcomings, much like its audio imperfections, only make it more affecting.
No, it’s not terribly deep or insightful stuff, nor is it groundbreaking in the slightest. Heck, we’ve all heard Flying Saucer Attack, Hood, and Labradford, to name but a few, do this sort of thing before. But it is very conducive for those times when you just want sit back in a nice, overstuffed chair and stare out the your house’s biggest window, enjoying the way the trees’ blazes of color seem so perfect against crisp blue skies even as you cast your thoughts a few months back. And sometimes, that’s more than enough.