LP REVIEW
Dominic Valvona




The Provincials ‘The Dark Ages’
(Itchen Recordings) LP/ 15th November 2019


In full Panavision, The Provincials duo of vocalist Polly Perry and guitarist and author Seb Hunter articulate a mesmerizing and spellbinding miasma of a domesday on their long awaited second LP, The Dark Ages. The original dark ages epoch was named so for a lack of documentary and archeological evidence from as, we now know, a rich if tumultuous period in the history of these Isles and beyond: A time that roughly marks the decline of the Roman Empire to the beginning of the next millennium. It’s used here of course to weave a lyrical, sometimes Shakespearean, vision of our contemporary times: Brexit especially (I presume). Even if they portray it with a diaphanous lulled and beautifully administered deft touch, The Provincials paint a bleakly poetic diorama of being swept under a despairing riptide. Depending on which side of that divide you feel comfortable pontificating or barracking from, Brexit and by association (though far more complex to all tie-in) so-called “populism” in politics, you either believe that this is all an exciting, tide-turning, opportunity or, the end times!

And so reminders of past imperial ventures overseas (an empirical vague gesture to the infamous ‘Inkerman’; a decisive score draw monumental battle in the Crimean War saga) and the slaughter and PTSD anguish legacy of WWI (the Shell-shocked Medieval waltz ‘We Lost Our Minds’) are woven into a musical hallucination of dour romanticism and melancholy. However, the pains and woes are handled deftly; especially from the aria like performances of Perry, who’s range longingly flows between the ethereal and dramatic. Counterbalancing nimbly-picked Pentangle folk with more rousing swamp boogie and flange-dreamy Britpop, Hunter’s acoustic and electrified guitar playing rings out, offering both stripped-back accentuate caresses and moods, and more punctuating punches. The only additional instrumentation (the barest of stirring ambience, with trickled and sonorous bass note piano parts and drums courtesy of producer Dan Parkinson) is used most sparingly, with the most full-on songs being the breakout rocking ‘Inkerman’, which sounds like a crescendo stomping combo of The White Stripes, Anna Calvi, The Classical and Yeah Yeah Yeahs. More winding and suffused with mysterious ambient tones tough, the sonnet-like trickling ‘The Western Shore’ bears the atmospherics of Popol Vuh’s Affenstunde.

Meandering along a path that stretches from the Norman church dotted shingly shoreline of the southeast coast of Romney to a revenge-soaked Iberia, The Provincials conjure up a lamentable present. Perhaps we are indeed doomed. Perhaps these are the end days or the darkness before the light. Whatever the truth, this diaphanous duo has articulated such augurs with a gauze-y, beautiful veneer worth savoring and improved no end since their last album.







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