Review from Foxy Digitalis

Directing Hand “Songs From the Red House”

Only a few months ago the UK music underground was blown apart with the disruptive yet fragile LP “What Put The Blood” from vocal drum duo Directing Hand. Now we are graced with the equally mind boggling “Songs From The Red House” LP, available on limited vinyl through the wonderful Singing Knives. This is the second LP (under the current line up) from this outfit comprising Alex Neilson and Lavinia Blackwall. Housed in exquisite artwork courtesy of Blackwell, and limited to a mere 250 copies, this 12” slab of freeform experimentation, folk and jazz operatics is a handsome menace for both the ears and eyes. Also included within the package is a wonderful poem by Oliver Neilson.

The album opens with the now familiar aggressive collaborative tone, as set on the previous LP. Scattered beats tumble in a ferocious battle with wailing cries that veer between pain, anger and tranquillity. Vocally unmatched in her ability to bravely execute piercingly uncomfortable shrills with untempered ferocity, Blackwell adds a chaotic dimension to Neilson’s drumming. This onslaught of ritualistic humanity is powered with such force that one becomes both consumed and agitated. The second track takes on a quiet approach, swelling soft longing vocals over varying instrumentation and percussion. This exquisite vocal scaling and twinkling percussion drifts with hypnotic madness that erupts with fireworks and foam.

You could truss-up this collective with extensive comparisons, yet I feel it’s a duty to convey their sound in its intimate originality, rather than place historic references. There is an unusual traditional British folk heart to what is predominantly an overpowering free jazz affair. The heart of the album seems bloody and exposed as they lament with the final track of side A, ‘My Lagan Love’. This is the only track to be repeated from the last LP. It is handled with a substantial difference incorporating the rock-out explosion that empowers the opening track of “What Put The Blood”. This closes the side beautifully and with confidence. Side B creeps into life with an expressive and frightening rendition of ‘Golden Hair’, then continues into the lunacy that is ‘In Elysium’. The latter traverses a plain of absolute vocal agitation over some truly inspired drumming. The final outpour ‘The Third Temptation’ has a mammoth sound with alien plucked strings that crash with pastoral eruptions.

Two tracks were recorded by the wonderful Ben Nash, who apart from being a great musician has put down some awesome live shows, namely the recent MV & EE live album “Meet Snake Pass” (also Singing Knives). Most tracks are recorded live at the Heeley Institute, Sheffield and it’s this freedom of performance that makes this record a welcome edition so soon after the recent LP. The Directing Hand project is an inspiration to the UK underground and suggests a new landscape for future musicians. I think there is a long way for this collective to journey before they find their ultimate stride, and upon this journey I plan to follow with eager ears. This is difficult, consuming and most definitely important.

8/10 — Peter Taylor, 20th August 2008