There are some albums which come right out of the blue and hit you in totally unexpected ways. Black Bay, from fascinating new project Silver Moth, arose from a Twitter exchange about the Isle of Lewis in the Outer Hebrides between Matthew Rochford of Devon band Abrasive Trees, and Scottish Euphoric Pop artist, Elizabeth Elektra. Silver Moth gradually coalesced until Stuart Braithwaite of Mogwai, singer Evi Vine, guitarist Steven Hill, Burning House drummer Ash Babb, and Prosthetic Head cellist/multi-instrumentalist Ben Roberts met up with Rochford and Elektra at the far distant Black Bay Studios on the Isle of Lewis in early 2021. This completely new project consisted of members who largely did not know each other before meeting up, but somehow managed to conjure up magical, beguiling sounds in just a few days.
Black Bay comprises six explorations in sweeping sounds and resonant emotions, none more so than the deeply affecting The Eternal, written in memory of Elizabeth Elektra and Stuart Braithwaite’s great friend Alanna who died unexpectedly. Braithwaite’s chiming guitar motif alongside shimmering synths builds a watercolour wash of evocative sound upon which Elektra gently adds hymnal tones – it is heartbreaking in its beauty. Her diaphanous voice entwines intuitively with Ben Roberts’ emotive cello. Ashley Babb’s subtle drums underplay a rise in vocal intensity. Towards the end guitars, bass, synths and voice rise kaleidoscopically towards the starkly beautiful climax, underlining the sense in the song that even in death there is the hope that the love we have for those dear to us is indeed eternal.
Silver Moth is brimming with talent, Evi Vine adding her own distinctive voice alongside Elektra in the first song, Henry, which acts as a gateway to this ethereal landscape. A brooding opening thrums with guitar string effects, counterbalanced with Vine’s tremulous vocals. It feels as if we are slowly rising to the surface with a repeating, mournful theme. This is clearly music about atmosphere and texture rather than out and out tunes. Henry builds and builds, layer upon layer… and then recedes with soft guitars, eerie scraping strings and synths, like the tide ebbing. You can almost hear the landscape of the Isle of Lewis soaked into every bar and note. Evi Vine and Elizabeth Elektra co-wrote Mother Tongue as a tribute to female equality, urging us to listen, impelled by what Evi states is the “need to reclaim and remember and give voice to those who are silenced”. There are echoes of Talk Talk’s Spirit of Eden in its hypnotic melodic progression, with some delightful piano from Ben Roberts.
I was initially intrigued by the idea of this project due to having previously seen fellow Totnesian Matthew Rochford play with Jo Beth Young (formerly known as Talitha Rise) in her backing band The Abandoned Orchestra. Therefore, it was particularly touching to hear Matthew reciting the poem of his recently deceased father Gerard Rochford in Gaelic Psalms, over a deeply resonant cello soundscape and seemingly the sounds of the Isle of Lewis, provided by the sound effects of ‘Island Debris’ by Roberts and Babb. The island landscape is interweaved into every warp and weft of this album soundscape. Similarly, final song Sedna, the Inuit goddess of the sea, is soaked with the atmosphere of the waters surrounding the island. Over a tribal drum beat and splashing cymbals, synths ebb and flow whilst shimmering guitar arpeggios undulate rhythmically, and the vocals slide in and out of the waves of sound in a gloriously atmospheric hymn to the sea. It is a wonderful end to a truly outstanding album.
This review needs to finish on the post-rock epic grandeur of Hello Doom, which deserves to be regarded as one of the outstanding tracks of 2023. Emerging from the mists with barely coherent but poetic musings, a la Jim Morrison, suggesting an Apocalypse Now-like soundtrack, Hello Doom slithers its way onwards on a subtle guitar line, borne on a slowly rolling mist of cello and synths. Silver Moth seem to instinctively know that less is more as it moves forward with restraint which hints at barely controlled power and fury. The whole of Silver Moth intertwine to musically rise inexorably like molten magma, rising to the surface, distorting like metal buckling under intense pressure, before flowing out of the cracks in broiling, bubbling waves of drums, guitars and synths. As we emerge from the torrent, the cello and effects deposit us further down the mountainside and the plaintive, mournful vocals and whispers echo our own devastation. Hello Doom pulses on sombrely with eerily keening wraith-like guitar effects, and we seemingly slip into eternity. The whole piece is sparse, spectral and strangely beautiful. I can honestly say that after I first heard Hello Doom I felt deeply affected and had to pause the next song so I could process what I had just heard, it had touched me so much. Somehow, Hello Doom accesses deeply emotional feelings of loss and love, and yet it had not made me feel overwhelmingly sad or depressed. Indeed, it had reminded me that loss was a sign and cost of love, and after Hello Doom I was strangely filled with a peculiar mixture of sweet sadness… and there is not much music that can touch us that deeply. There is a comforting sweetness in sorrow and memories at times.
Black Bay is a remarkable album, clearly borne out of a collective sense of grief, but crucially also from a sense of reconciliation and re-birth. Silver Moth was seemingly a spontaneous but gloriously creative collision of disparate artists, who on a remote island explored the edges of their own souls, honestly and to great effect, spiritually and musically… and that’s the crucial element here – Black Bay resonates with the raw truth of authentic emotion, self-discovery and love… and don’t we all need a bit more of those qualities these days?
Let’s hope Silver Moth fly again to the edges one day.
01. Henry (7:19)
02. The Eternal (5:35)
03. Mother Tongue (6:02)
04. Gaelic Psalms (3:23)
05. Hello Doom (15:09)
06. Sedna (7:00)
Total Time – 44:29
Evi Vine – Vocals, Bass
Elizabeth Elektra – Vocals, Synthesisers
Stuart Braithwaite – Guitars, Synthesisers
Steven Hill – Guitars, Synthesisers
Matthew Rochford – Guitars, Harmonium, Spoken Word (track 4), Backing Vocals
Ben Roberts – Cello, Piano, Trumpet, Percussion, Guitar, Bass, Island Debris, Backing Vocals
Ash Babb – Drums, Percussion, Island Debris, Backing Vocals
Record Label: Bella Union
Country of Origin: U.K.
Date of Release: 21st April 2023