Justin Hopper & Sharon Kraus – Swift Wings (Nightshade Records)


I was quite taken with the mysterious, folkloric and quite spellbinding work of Justin Hopper, Sharon Kraus and Belbury Poly, Chanctonbury Rings from a couple of years ago. It was an album that really took time to consider how voice and sound could interact, melding spoken word, wordless vocals and all manner of semi mystical memories and poetic musings with a weird, beautiful and magical kind of music. It was a wholly immersive experience that really sounded not of this age.

Hopper & Kraus, this time without Poly, use the poems of Victor Neuburg to structure their unique pieces on Swift Wings. Neuburg, a poet and literary editor is probably best known for having discovered Dylan Thomas and being Aleister Crowley’s lover and disciple. They’ve used his book Swift Wings: Songs in Sussex (1921) as a launching point. Swift Wings came after he broke with Crowley (in about 1914). He was actually married, the same year Swift wings was published, and by all accounts his time in Sussex was considerably happier than his previous decades. His poetry that appears here is quite beautiful, minute moments in the landscape, offering a kind of peacefulness that feels quite reassuring – particularly at the moment.

Kraus uses recorders, bamboo flute, dulcimer, synths, programming and percussion to create a relatively spare musical backing. She does much with little, creating a peculiar abstract folk music, though often on Swift Wings she also adds vocals and (gasp) singing, and the interplay with Hopper is nothing short of sublime. Hopper’s delivery of Neuberg’s words is quite incredible. He draws you in and takes you inside the work, there’s a real literary joy here, as you can tell he relishes the wordplay. It’s impossible not to be engaged. It makes sense because Hopper has edited the book Obsolete Spells: Poems & Prose from Victor Neuburg & the Vine Press 1920–1930, which offers a selection of Neuburg’s work and from other Vine Press books.

The work of this duo is really something special and different. Swift Wings really blurs the boundaries between music and spoken word, somehow never really existing wholly within either. Like its predecessor though there is something not of this age about the work, something quite mystical and unique.


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Bob is the features editor of Cyclic Defrost. He is also evil. You should not trust the opinions of evil people.

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