The Windy Hills Fall of Planet Esoteria 2014
Mess & Noise
Review by Barnaby Smith
As a stalwart of the nation’s more discerning, thoughtful and eco-oriented surf community, Andrew Kidman is currently enjoying a deserved period in the sun thanks to the Spirit of Akasha film, his wonderful sequel to Alby Falzon’s seminal 1972 movie Morning of the Earth. His surfing life extends to making boards and surf photography, while his filmmaking life extends to a filmography of five features, including 2010’s Lost in the Ether. His band, The Windy Hills, have now produced their follow-up to 2012’s Friend from Another Star, and it is perhaps best to consider this ambitious, studied collection in isolation from both surf sub-culture and any notion of film soundtracks; Fall of Planet Esoteria has hints of both but is far-reaching and often, indeed, esoteric in its influences and suggestions.
That said, a sense of oceanic awe presents itself at various points, a quality that is not always comforting or inspiring and all the better for it. Opener ‘Song of Many’ is a cascading and absorbing thing, taking on Danny Kirwan-era Fleetwood Mac as well as shades of Pink Floyd circa Meddle. Extremely attractive instrumental passages give way to a vocal sequence that, with its eerie backing lines, allows the song to become a little threatening. The supernatural is further evoked on the superbly restrained ‘Snowflakes Falling on the Sea’, combining an early Devendra Banhart guitar mood with, again, evocations of Pink Floyd performing in an amphitheatre in Pompeii. It is spellbinding and mysterious and the record’s undoubted highpoint.
Perhaps the hugely affecting nature of this track serves to sharply emphasise the album’s few shortcomings. Kidman has licked his lips at the folk-rock smorgasbord here and perhaps allows his tastes to run away with him at times, resulting in a little too eclectic an approach which jars the building momentum brought about by ‘Song of Many’, ‘Snowflakes Falling on the Sea’ and, to a slightly lesser degree, ‘Magnolia’. The ballads, for instance, seem a bit too much of a drain on energy. ‘Is it by Chance’ is a decent enough acoustic elegy, with its austerity heavily reminiscent of Ryan Adams’ Heartbreaker, complete with Gillian Welch-esque backing vocals. It is a stark comedown from the bluesy fever of the first track, while closer ‘Apple Tree’, again a very pretty tune, ends everything on a bit of a sentimental note when the principal feeling of the album is of something huge and elemental. Mitigating this is that Kidman’s delicately masculine voice is undeniably soulful, particularly when as ‘close’ as on these two tracks.
Elsewhere, the presence of a drum machine on ‘Some Love’ supports a sound exemplifying the folktronica boom of nearly 10 years ago, while another triumph must be ‘Cars’, which sees Kidman’s rhythmic preoccupations return before transmogrifying into a more unexpectedly bruising jam that again touches on something a little nasty.
Kidman agreed to make Spirit of Akasha as long as it remained strictly faithful to the attitudes and ideals of Morning of the Earth, in the face of Warner Music’s potential interference. This appears to typify him: here is a record that oozes heart and what we might call his ‘lifeforce’. This manifests itself, generally, as a sumptuous union of melody and texture, largely overriding the moments when Fall of Planet Esoteria hits its inevitable slumps.