littlebow, the London-based duo of multi-instrumentalists Katie English and Keiron Phelan, first broke ground in 2011 with their debut album on Second Language, The Edge Blown Aerophone – its title an explicit reference to the varied flutes and woodwinds which characterized the record, alongside vestigial flavours of classical minimalism, Krautrock and a soupcon of esoteric, pastoral prog-rock.
Having established their template, Pi Magpie sees littlebow expanding their brief considerably – their signature flutes now part of a broader sonic palate in which tremulous keyboards, spidery guitars, cyclical drums and sonorous Eastern percussion ebb and flow with equal consequence.
The title Pi Magpie is apt, denoting as it does, the notion of ‘intelligent, mischievous theft’, thus indicating littlebow’s appropriation and synthesis of numerous musical styles. Not that this is an album merely of postmodern collage: palpable human warmth, generous melody and a jazzy freedom of expression are the true hallmarks of Pi Magpie. So, even as ‘For the Song’ evokes Philip Glass gone be-bop, the up-tempo ‘Devil’s Interval’ summons Zuckerzeit-period Cluster, ‘Part Time Blind’ suggests breezy quasi-‘60s instrumental exotica and ‘Hosianna Raft’ recalls the sun kissed optimism of Can’s Future Days, this remains first and foremost music predicated on originality, seductive timbre and timeless art-pop accessibility. Which remains the case even when you learn that ‘Pin Point Night’ is based squarely on Stravinsky harmonies, or that all of the album’s bass parts are played on duo pizzicato cellos and structured on complex gamelan rhythms – Katie English being a regular performer in London gamelan orchestras.
Indeed, both Katie and Keiron are practiced luminaries of leftfield music – the former in her much-vaunted, Home Normal championed, guise as electronic sound sculptor Isnaj Dui and a host of recondite collaborations including Hybernation, Memory Drawings and The Doomed Bird Of Providence, the latter as co-founder of cult Millennial post-rockers State River Widening and critically lauded joint-originator of albums for the likes of Leaf and Static Caravan as Phelan/Sheppard and Smile Down Upon Us. They currently play principal roles in the Orla Wren sound art collective.
The antithesis of bucolic, faux-romantic, post-ambient noodle, Pi Magpie is a crucible of innovation and charm, deliberately glinting with urban textures, delivered by musicians with street smarts. As Keiron puts it, “We’re city people, and I think the music reflects that. Our green spaces are surrounded by speeding traffic – and the Magpie is a bird of urban stripe…”
Pi Magpie comes packaged as a 8 panel concertina sleeve with artwork by Malcolm English and design by Jonathan Lees.
Second Language subscribers will also receive a bonus disc, Five White Feathers, featuring 5 remixes of tracks from the album by Memory Drawings, Oliver Cherer, Thaiseeds, USRNM and Weave.
1. Pi Mapie
2. The Devil’s Interval
3. For The Song
4. Wearside Rat Catcher
5. Hosianna Raft
6. Joe Caligula
7. How The Moon Got Its Light
8. Part Time Blind
9. The Pin Point Night
10. Faking Halos
Listen to ‘For The Song‘ from the album here :
Watch Helen Smith's video for 'How The Moon Got Its Light' here :
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