When Dylan can win the Nobel prize for literature, it’s only fitting that the romantic poets get the rock and roll treatment. They were the original rock stars, living lives of fame, passion, debauchery and decadence long before it was popular.
Fans of the Showtime series Penny Dreadful will likely recognize the lyrics to the album’s opener, William Wordsworth’s Lines Written in Early Spring. At once acknowledging man’s connection to nature whilst at the same time, lamenting how man has lost his way, it sets a theme which runs constant through the Seasons.
Paganism suffers from the misperception that its practitioners are resurrecting old gods long since abandoned, when in reality like these songs, paganism is more about living a life well lived, in tune with nature’s cycles. If you want to summon Isis as well, well that’s your trip, be our guest.
The seasons are nature’s clock, and Folkswitch take you through the year with poetry typically a couple centuries old, and as pertinent to today as ever. At times it’s implied, as in Nutting, where the desecration of the forest is broken off by the ring of a telephone.
The Season’s Suite begins with a few lines of Coleridge, spoken over a haunting melody which came from of all places, a 16th century painting by Albrecht Durer, The Garden of Earthly Delights. If you look closely to the lower right panel you’ll see a figure pointing to the posterior of another, who has this melody imprinted there.
Musically speaking, Folkswitch owe more to the early years of British folk and hard rock than music tattooed on a medieval ass, but there’s enough of a connection to make it work. Echoes of artists like Fairport Convention, Genesis, Pink Floyd, Roy Harper, modern psych folk proponents like Espers and their Philadelphia brethren merge with early metal like Black Sabbath and Ritchie Blackmore’s Rainbow. Merry Month of May goes from Caress of Steel era Rush to Jethro Tull in a heartbeat.
Not that Folkswitch necessarily have their skill or consistency. Think of it as garage prog. The Seasons is an ambitious first album and occasionally falls short. It’s sonically dull and obviously garage quality. But it’s apparent that what they are going for is atmosphere, more than pristine sound and stellar talent.
In that they succeed. You can’t help but be reminded of the days when an album like this would have reefer residue in the seams of the gatefold. Call it head music or just “music to get stoned to.”
It’s not easy listening, nor even casual listening, which only makes sense. The poetry you find in these lyrics wasn’t easy reading either. Knowing the words to Shelley’s Ode To The West Wind is certainly helpful when listening to the song, but even if you can’t follow along on first listen, you can’t help but catch the madness of their intensity when spit out over a riff not wholly unlike early Black Sabbath.
The highlight of the set might actually be the final piece, a three part suite of poems from Christina Rossetti, which start off to accompaniment reminiscent of Pentangle and finish off with a sound similar to Eno’s “Here Come the Warm Jets.” There are quite a few twists in between as well, but it moves along well and the poems almost hang together as a story.
Folkswitch’s The Seasons is a bit pretentious, rambling and sloppy, but it’s nice to see people still aspire to something like art in an age where so many words are thrown out there and instantly fly away on the breeze. Some words are worth repeating, even centuries later.
Lyrics and Liner Notes
Lines Written in Early Spring, William Wordsworth
Introduction To The Seasons: Frost at Midnight, Samuel Taylor Coleridge
Blow, Blow, Thou Winter Wind, William Shakespeare
The Pleasant Month of May (The Merry Haymakers), Traditional
Epigraph to Alice/The Lobster’s Quadrille, Lewis Carroll
Ode to the West Wind , Percy Bysshe Shelley
Frost at Midnight, Samuel Taylor Coleridge
Nutting, William Wordsworth
For A Dream’s Sake, Part One: Spring Quiet/Mirage/Who Has Seen The Wind, , Christina Rossetti
For A Dream’s Sake, Part Two: Echo, Christina Rossetti
For A Dream’s Sake, Part Three: Dream Land/When I Am Dead My Dearest, Christina Rossetti
Farewell to Fellow Voyagers, Lydia Sigourney