Published on 8th November 2016
The Sea Nymphs – On the Dry Land
It’s fair to say that in certain quarters this long delayed second album from The Sea Nymphs is one of the most eagerly awaited releases in forever.
For those not in the know the response may well be, “Never heard of them, why the eagerness?”
The answer is Tim Smith.
This is the first new music to involve Tim since 2007 and the lead single to the still unreleased Cardiacs album that was pulled in the wake of Smith’s crippling heart attack and stroke double whammy, from which he is still slowly recovering.
Tim Smith is a musical maverick with a keenly developed sense of what his work should be. It sounds like no one else and exists apart, in a parallel universe of like-minded disciples and enthusiasts to whom Tim could not be held in higher regard.
Within the orbit of the Cardiacs mothership but set apart, The Sea Nymphs produce shimmering filigree work, more restrained and not as scary as the freely spinning jerkiness of Cardiacs releases, but yet composed from the same DNA, created as they are from the talents of Smith, his estranged wife Sarah Smith and William D. Drake, both Cardiacs alumni. First working as a unit outside of the main band in 1984, they produced the Mr and Mrs Smith and Mr Drake album. A snappier band name was deemed to be required and The Sea Nymphs’ self-titled debut appeared in 1992. This second Sea Nymphs album was largely recorded around the same time as the first but has lain in the vaults for almost 25 years, evidence of its existence only previously appearing with three songs included in a live John Peel session in 1998, the eager yearnings of the faithful doing nothing to free the full album from its confinement.
But then… cryptic rumblings a few months ago led to the belief that it might finally appear. And here it is in my sweaty paws. It is a beautiful and very special thing.
It is almost three albums in one, beautifully amalgamated into a complete whole. The writing from Tim and Bill is identifiable as the individual traits shine through, Sarah adding delightfully delicate layers here, thumping brass there. The three voices also take the music in different directions, coming together to support each other as the album holds as a unified work. The fact that a quarter of a century separates the main sessions from the additional recording beggars belief. It’s a lovely companion to the first Sea Nymphs, strikingly different and yet similar, the intervening years only going to show that this music, as with much of Tim’s oeuvre, is timeless.
In seven minutes the opening trio from Tim Smith’s pen take us from ethereal sounds in similar vein to his Extra Special Oceanlandworld solo album, layered keys of varying tone supporting the fragile vocal, to the plaintive yet cracked Eating A Heart Out, Sarah’s voice floating like soft snow in a light breeze, to Big River where Tim and acoustic guitar plus skeletal support unfold a typically unexpected piece. It could go on all night but here it’s two minutes and gone. With Tim’s lyrics, Drake counters with the delightful Sea Snake Beware, his talents as a pianist clear with Sarah nailing the vocal. Anyone familiar with Mr Drake’s solo work will recognise Mirmaid’s Purse, re-used as the final section of Homesweet Homestead Hideaway on The Rising of the Lights.
Tim’s Cut Yourself Kidding is almost Tudor in feel, refracted through his unique prism, Bye Bye Spirit sees Sarah float into the stratosphere on a pillow of strings – it’s like Mantovani on drugs! – the piano used throughout to wonderfully organic effect. Instrumental asides, such as a beautiful burst of solo Bill in Anchors Away, and delicately detailed near fragments pepper the track listing, a cornucopia of delights to savour. Aside from Mr Smith and Mr Drake, 19th Century poets Gerard Manley Hopkins and George Darley get a look in with the words to Drake’s Heaven Haven and A Sea Ritual respectively. The former could have come from a Drake solo set, only with Tim singing, while the latter allows Bill free reign, his cracked and straining vocal suiting the chaos all around, ending a trio of songs that began with the title track which offer a much quirkier vista. On The Dry Land is full of pumping multilayered sax with Bill singing, Sarah joining him for the chorus. The Black Blooded Clam is edgy and more knockabout with sound effects galore, Sarah rising from the chaos with angelic ease, Drake’s contribution reminiscent of Michael Nyman.
Tim’s snotty-nosed delivery of Liberated And Handsome would fit on a Cardiacs release if it wasn’t for the beautifully refined piano in which it is set, likewise A Kind Of Keeper with Tim and his guitar again. And let’s face facts here, any album that ends with a beautiful instrumental piece entitled Wanky has got to be a winner, right?
The 15 hit-and-run tracks are seemingly gone in a flash in little over half an hour, but don’t they cram a lot in?! Two and a bit minutes is the average, only two tracks creeping past 3 minutes (and one of those only just), you don’t need to pack the disc when the writing is this succinct, it feels like a boxset, the feel ebbing and flowing like the tide, delicate to forthright and back again.
Pastoral tones flow through it, classically influenced at times, at others folky but always shot through with Cardiacs brilliance. If you’ve previously decided that Cardiacs’ ‘Sturm und Drang’ just isn’t for you then this album might be the way in; more restrained, less edgy but equally fascinating, free spirits doing what they like. And it is good.
This is psychedelia as it should be, charming and often dreamy with a well aimed sax giving it a boot now and then. The tone is ethereal with a surreal quality. The most heartening part of all this is that Tim Smith himself was able to play a part in completing On the Dry Land, supervising additional recording and the assembly of the finished album. One can only hope that his rehabilitation may continue and allow him to produce many more aural delights such as this in the future.
01. After (2:14)
02. Eating A Heart Out (2:50)
03. Big River (2:00)
04. Sea Snake Beware (2:54)
05. Mirmaid’s Purse (2:06)
06. Cut Yourself Kidding (3:07)
07. Bye Bye Spirit (4:31)
08. Heaven Haven (1:39)
09. Anchors Away (0:23)
10. On The Dry Land (1:46)
11. The Black Blooded Clam (2:46)
12. The Sea Ritual (2:22)
13. Liberated And Handsome (1:36)
14. A Kind Of Keeper (1:24)
15. Wanky (2:25)
Total time – 34:03
Tim Smith – Lead & Backing Vocals, Guitar, Keyboards
Sarah Smith – Saxophone, Clarinet, Recorder, Lead & Backing Vocals
William D. Drake – Keyboards, Television Organ, Lead & Backing Vocals
All of the Nymphs Bang Things
Record Label: The Alphabet Business Concern
Date of Release: 4th November 2016