Andy Cartwright, aka Seabuckthorn, has long been one of Oxford’s most exciting, talented, yet relatively unknown musicians. Perhaps his anonymity is of his own design but it’s strangely fitting that such an insular artist could top readers’ polls and have only 35 likes on his Facebook page (that most quantifiable indicator of popularity). Under the Seabuckthorn moniker, Andy has already released three albums as well as a handful of home-made, self-released CDs and In Nightfall, his fourth album, is essentially a condensed hit of what he can do.
For an album with only seven songs, that clocks in at only 23 minutes, In Nightfall is a truly cinematic affair and, as we’ve come to expect from Seabuckthorn, breathtakingly beautiful and evocative. The imagery that supports Seabuckthorn’s releases has always provided us listeners with a starting point, or a springboard, from which to mentally traverse vast, hushed landscapes, unforgiving deserts, solemn forests, ancient temples, hot dusty roads; locations that most of us never get to see. The music provides us with the soundtrack for our journey.
‘Address the Night’, with its slowly descending, overlapping guitar figures sets the stage for ‘Journeyed Road’, a more enigmatic and energetic piece, and the album’s most immediately engaging and kinetic song. ‘Carrier’ shares a certain tone with some of the more guitar-led songs on Four Tet’s Pause, an album that evokes a similar mood. Like Pause, In Nightfall is awash with Asiatic and South American colours, crazed flamenco flourishes, arpeggios and looping guitar repetitions (‘The River Answered’) while maintaining a kind of innate spirituality, as if the music on this album were the religious songs of an ancient civilization.
While much of the album could serve as the soundtrack for exploring arid foothills and exotic forest temples, ‘Gone Estray, Being Circled’ is the soundtrack for entering a long-forgotten, foreboding shrine and being descended upon by malevolent spirits (you know the feeling). It is the atmospheric high-point of the album, the section that most explicitly creates a vision and a mood in our minds and where Seabuckthorn best demonstrates his skill as a cinematic composer, weaving woozy wind instruments together with deep, sparse piano notes and short, quick flurries of guitar.
‘Burnt Offering’ is the perfect ending to a stunning piece of art. A peaceful, lulling arpeggiating waltz – romantic 7th notes and all – plays the album out, while notes thoroughly drenched in reverb ring out and bend. You can practically see and smell the smoke circling up into the ether.
As David Murphy wrote of Seabuckthorn’s previous album A Mantra Pulled Apart, “picking favourite tracks is academic, your best bet being to let the record wash over you whilst staring out of the window into the evening”. You can scan In Nightfall for the most dynamic songs (‘Journeyed Road’), the most atmospheric (‘Gone Estray, Being Circled’) or the most beautiful (‘Burnt Offering’, ‘Carrier’) but, as is often the case with artists like Seabuckthorn, the album seems to be a thematic whole that doesn’t benefit from being segmented and broken apart. It feels like there is a natural progression in the track listing, like the songs are steps in a list of directions to some forgotten place.
You simply must listen to Seabuckthorn, a most transcendental artist.