I first came across Oliver Cherer when his song Croham Hurst was featured on the latest Music and Migration compilation, a beautiful collection based loosely around the migratory habits of birds. Even amongst exalted company Cherer’s track was a standout, mixing the supernatural and the quotidian in a way that cast a new and unexpected light on the landscape of a Croydon country park. Croham Hurst also appears on Sir Ollife Leigh, conjuring up the spectre of the album’s title. The musical theme that flowers towards the end of Croham Hurst first appears in The Dead, an audacious choice for an opening track in which male and female voices echo and bounce off each other in a timeless danse macabre.
For an album that is concerned mainly with death and darkness there is nothing stuffy or constrictive about Sir Ollife Leigh. The simplest songs are full of space. The short and hopeful Consider Darkness retains its atmosphere with little more than an unpretentious few bars of piano and deceptively plain vocals, backed up by former Hefner multi-instrumentalist Jack Hayter’s viola and Riz Maslen’s backing vocals.
Cherer is perhaps better known for his Dollboy project where he veers toward Eno-esque ambience and electronic bleepery, and he brings some of those techniques across to Sir Ollife Leigh. Here though they are channelled through olde-worlde, universal lyrical themes and folk instrumentation. The large and unusual selection of instruments on show and the avant-garde approach mean that wordless pieces like The Charcoal Burners resemble the Incredible String Band covering Cluster.
A lyrical evocation of solitude, Millions is as moving and simple as a canticle, until the song is washed over by juddering, discordant piano, a sound that could represent a chaotic sea or an equally chaotic mind. Ladybird, Ladybird, by contrast, has a guileless clarity which matches its lyrical theme of the transience of childhood, borne along by plucked stings and melodic singing, while the Antonioni-referencing Maryon Park, with Maslen’s birdlike flute, is unapologetically lovely pastoral prog-folk along the lines of Sallyangie or Trader Horne. Continuing the progressive theme is Asphyxiation, which sounds like what Pink Floyd might have turned into if Syd Barrett had stuck around and imposed his love of brevity and his penchant for acoustic instrumentation. When We Shut Down is a fairly straight piano-led song about bereavement. It is given life by a beautiful, hauntingly restrained horn section, ensuring that the album’s final message is one of hope and acknowledgement of the healing power of time.
Cherer admits to his new album being heavily influenced by Russell Hoban’s dark, pagan fantasy of post-apocalyptic Britain, Ridley Walker, a novel that invents its own language from shared memories of a seemingly distant past, and from slivers of nature and the supernatural. Sir Ollife Leigh & Other Ghosts does a similar thing musically – creating a wonderful, spectral sustained vernacular and reopening a dialogue with death in a fresh and optimistic way.
Sir Ollife Leigh & Other Ghosts is out now on Second Language