Spectralate‘s second LP finds Annie Pye and Alan Holmes (Ectogram, Parking Non-Stop, Fflaps, The Groceries, etc) embarking on a musical journey around Ynys Môn (also known as Anglesey to Anglophones), and it’s interesting to ponder briefly if the All Terrain Badgers of the title refers to beasts they encountered en route (whether real or imagined) or metaphorically to the duo themselves.Either way, the album — which is released on vinyl with a CD included inside the sleeve too — is a beguiling follow-up to 2015’s The Student’s Companion, unfolding in twelve occasionally wistful, often skewed avant-dreampop tales of the island (though actually one is about nearby Pentrefoelas on the mainland, but that’s another story). They soon send the listener off to very different places than their surrounding environment — unless listened to on Ynys Mön, but even so, kilometrage may vary. Add in a front cover that continues the pleasantly simple washed-out tones and greyscale logo of the first Spectralate LP and All Terrain Badgers makes for a wonderfully rounded package that rewards repeated visits, much like the landscape it celebrates and explores.
Hush, haunted, breathy singing floats over a tinkling breeze of acoustic guitar, piano and strings (among many other instruments), shimmery electronics and delicate effects, Alan holding down the low end of the vocal duties while Annie’s brighter trebles lilt in freefalling harmony. Songs like “Barren Region On The Coast” put the geographical firmly back into the psychogeographical, unrolling in almost-clinically descriptive ecstasies of rain-swept “signposts leading us astray” that evoke the landscape with a strangely matter-of-fact surrealism. It’s like listening to notes for a travelogue set to deceptively gentle melodies, and propels the listener into a floating vision of the Welsh countryside, though one inhabited by both the smeared slurred production of the woozy “Refugees” and the wavering tinkles of “Egrets”.There’s a knowing (but never too arch) seam of humour on All Terrain Badgers, not least on when Holmes and Pye unleash “By the Time I Get to Pentrefoelas” on their sole visit to the hinterlands of the Conwy Valley. It’s at once a nod to pop’s rich past workings and a reworking of the same to suit the local conditions, referencing “the far-away and long-extinct volcano”, and where Glen Campbell sang of phones ringing off the wall, Holmes searches his jacket for coins to feed the “waiting parking meter that ticks inside her mind while she’s asleep”, making the song the duo’s own. With references to Hammerstein and Rodgers, an utterly compelling staging of Oklahoma! and the song’s subject starting a new life in Albuquerque via the narrator’s full-circle trip to Ffestiniog and Bala, it’s really quite a remarkable piece of songwriting and an album highlight, especially when the strings soar and flow.
There’s a melancholy strand here too, and the wistful “Lucubration” slips softly into the final run-out groove, observing “They studied the poets by candlelight”, an evocative image leading to “The haunting realisation that was to be … will never be”. It’s a quietly existential end to an album which follows its own path across the hills and vales, one which suits the scenes and vignettes that have passed before. By turns surprising, comfortingly enveloping and even lightly, disconcertingly odd, All Terrain Badgers may perhaps also be a little bit away with the faerie folk of far-distant Pentrefoealas too.