When you’re ready to indulge in a little alt-folk, hazy psychedelics, acoustic post-rock and/or fuzzy ambient, all in one go, have I got a CD for you. The Past is a Foreign Country, from British duo Venona Pers, is built on crisp guitar and rich electronics for a trip that’s relaxing, engaging and deeply detailed. It eases you in with the homey guitars of “Prelude,” a beautiful song that sounds like it fell off a Windham Hill sampler. Subtle sound manipulations sneak in later to see if you’re really listening. From there Jonathan Hill and Grant Weston spend 10 more tracks playing with a perfect sense of balance. That’s one of the very good things about The Past…; it’s as much a guitar album as it is an electronic album. The weight shifts easily from one side to the other as things move along. With “Burnt Umber” the electronics take over briefly, static-roughened washes carrying the track. “Ferrous” has a grunge-like feel to it, the stripped-down rawness of the acoustic grinding against a foggy sonic backdrop. A vocal clip that repeats under it all works its way in almost like a percussive element. Then it’s into “Blue>Red,” which goes aggressively electronic, distorted textures churning out a droning base that rises and falls almost melodically. “Hideaway Beach” is a classic ambient piece, peaceful flows and perhaps a distorted voice, stretched and smoothed into the current. It blossoms at the end back into that folksy feeling to make itself complete. “Clicks and Strums” is unashamedly post-rock, complete with a strong hook and a beat drop that changes its feel just slightly–another nice touch. That’s the thing about The Past…; it’s filled with nice touches. While the biggest draw for me is the honesty of the thing, the sense of sincerity that rings through each track (brought on, maybe, by the earthy simplicity of the acoustic guitar), it’s also the way in which the disc is loaded with moments that just hit home. A beat here, a sound bite there, a switch of rhythm. There’s a lot going on, and Hill and Weston manage it all smoothly and confidently to make the small things matter. This is quite simply one of the best discs I’ve heard lately. I think you’ll find this one getting set to repeat often. The Past is a Foreign Country is a Hypnagogue Highly Recommended CD.
Available at the Venona Pers web site.