The cover art of the new album by Part Timer gives a definite signpost to the sounds contained within a moth-eaten, scratched album of faded memories, replete with a barely there sepia-tinged image of a spotlight (or a kettle drum). On the periphery of the image, an art-deco style piano roll motif fills in the blank space with some further embellishment. Real to Reel is the sound of artist easing into his prevalent persona and summoning the inner resources necessary to strip back the sounds and impulses of modern music. Now based in Melbourne, Northern England’s John McCaffrey recorded Real to Reel with assistance from Kansas’ favourite son Aaron Martin, John’s wife Danielle, Nicola Hodgkinson from Leeds outfit Empress (now resident down-under) and the dream-coated vocal powers of Melburnian harpist Heidi Elva.
The first instrumental track on Real to Reel, “Campsite Sundown” is a rhythmic pastoral ode foregrounding McCaffreyÃ¢â‚¬â„¢s inscrutable acoustic guitar work. Funnily enough, on the digital version I received for review, this track was mislabelled “Campsite Down”, I had images of a soggy tent blown over during a maddening squall, which did not fit the music in the slightest! Heidi Elva’s syrupy vocals on “Unfound” gel perfectly with the delicate arrangement and Aaron Martin’s brooding cello. “Suspended Belief” canters along in an orderly fashion – guitars hang in a cascading shawl whilst the hiss and burl of vinyl insinuates into the very marrow of this track. Clicking digits or suchlike drum out an elegant post-garage riddim. This is truly music for the spheres. On “Never Meant to Be” Heidi could be relating a tale of doomed love to a backing of wonky tape trickery and lush orchestration. There’s a curiously medieval feel to proceedings, think Morcheeba covering some Renaissance madrigal.
Throughout the duration of Real to Reel, there are echoes of Low, Vashti Bunyan, Angels of Light, Marissa Nadler and the early work of Four Tet. Folktronic, ambient and classical impulses gently rub shoulders and caress your ears with melodies, subtle field-recordings and minute electronic details. On a chilled Sunday morning or winding down after a busy day, Real to Reel could be the perfect method by which to soundtrack your hours. The textures and musical modes employed vary little throughout the albumÃ¢â‚¬â„¢s duration. Depending upon your predilection and inclination this could be a good thing, although the limited dynamic shifts and modes contained within Real to Reel may prompt a swift reassessment for the listener if he or she finds the mood a little cloying.