“I know that name I thought” when this album came up for review. Sure enough a bit of digging came up with the name Henry Hyde Bronsdon which was the nom de plume of vocalist / guitarist Duncan was using during his tenure in A Forest Of Stars. Reasons for him leaving that fine collective are uncertain but I am guessing it had something to do with him wanting to artistically move in a different musical direction. Make no mistake, he has done so and indeed this is the sort of album that could really only appear on a label that like him is prepared to do something different and move completely away from anything that could be affiliated with metal in any sense of the word. There were some detailed notes supplied with the promo but I didn’t want to pay too much attention as prefer to make my (probably wrong) diagnosis of an album’s influences and origins when it comes to reviewing but Duncan has definitely adopted a stance that is in line with many great singer songwriters of old and other bands that take a distinct step into the realms of doing things completely in their own way. Some cited include Swans, Wovenhand, Husker Du, Current 93, Nick Cave, Richard Thompson and Leonard Cohen. The 8 tracks here are narratively written partly in a personal fashion and lyrics which are all very interesting are provided, so too is a list of fiction he was reading when he was composing.
Musically I guess there are no right or wrong answers here and everyone who is prepared to listen will take something of their own away from this. The opening track ‘Bring Your Shoulder’ is short and bouncy and proves a good upbeat introduction. The guitar riffs have a rock and roll sort of jagged refrain that I could quite honestly see the likes of Patti Smith chugging along to and Duncan’s enchanting and heartfelt voice is instantly warming and comes from a place haunted by the likes of Jonathon Richman, Robert Wyatt and a host of other classic artists dabbling in all sorts of musical ideas. The musical hymns continue with Borderlands Prayer and like I said people will probably hear something they are used to here, for me although not identical by any means I am finding a similar vocal timbre to Marc Almond which has helped me really fall for the album on repeated listens. I also love the soulful backing vocal parts here too provided we are told by Dershna Morker. It’s one of several songs that are best described as ‘delicious’ and draws you in to its wanderlust and lyrical mysteries. Apparently the album was part recorded in an old church and a retro sounding organ spreads its fragrance around the psychedelic shake of ‘Us And Them And You And Me.’ This ups the drama levels and the vocals become more urgent, although it’s not music to bang your head to you certainly could on this one and no doubt people rocked out when Duncan supported Dornenreich in London not long ago, a show I am now kicking myself for missing. A gorgeous poetic break in the middle section is enough to have you swooning too and there’s plenty going on to keep you enchanted here. Duncan seems to have no problems keeping his compositions flowing with ‘Trembling’ doing just that for over 10 minutes and sprawling out from gorgeously graceful and lethargic origins, melody enhanced by shimmering piano runs before moving gradually into a decadent motion as suggested by the song title. Again those backing choral parts really hit the mark. I can see Jools Holland losing his shit over this particular number and if he heard it an invite to his show forthcoming.
Folk is just one of many genres lurking amidst the album and songs like ‘Poppy Tears’ could easily fit in at a certain famous Cambridge based festival. This one tugs the heartstrings and one listen with its simply effective rhyming couplets will have it lodged in your head for a week. A quite sublime and beautifully haunting song. It’s so difficult not to write about each and every number here (but I am going to skip to the chase here and wrap things up), they each have their own identity and nuances, that will keep you transfixed throughout and leave you feeling that you have discovered something quite special. This is not an album I would normally have discovered or indeed listened to if it were not on a label like Prophecy. ‘Prayers For An Absentee’ is one of those albums to put on when you want to be moved and one that strikes me as being for special occasions when the listener really wants to indulge themselves. Once the sensuous acoustic guitar lines of final track ‘Time’ eventually fade you know this is going to be no easy task and you are going to be hungering to take this trip as soon as possible again.
(8/10 Pete Woods)