Thursday, 17 September 2020

LISTEN: Cosmo Sheldrake - 'Wake Up Calls'

How about something a little different? It's no secret here that I'm an enormous fan of Cosmo Sheldrake and his music. Since my first real introduction to his work when he opened for Johnny Flynn at the Roundhouse in 2017 - consider me blown away and the Pelicans We EP hastily bought at the merch stand - I've been pretty much constantly mesmerised by all that he has released into the world. 

A London-based multi-instrumentalist, musician, composer and producer, Cosmo is also, put simply, a musical wizard and genius. His music is unique, pulling together sounds from the world around us, twisting them into magically quirky tracks. His work sits beyond the realms of genre. 

It probably isn't for everyone (but what music is?) - in fact, one of my favourite Cosmo related stories is about a time that I played his debut album The Much Much How How & I at the HMV store that I worked in. It sounded frankly glorious across the speaker system, but a customer sought out a colleague and asked who had chosen to play it - you could say that they weren't a fan. Fear not though... my love for the record more than made up for it. 

I still listen to that record frequently, most recently on a commute to work, while reading a chapter from Cosmo's brother Merlin Sheldrake's new book Entangled Life (like the Sheldrake family fangirl that I am rapidly, and unashamedly, becoming.) The book is about the genuinely fascinating hidden world of fungi. In a crazy and genuinely quite mind-boggling turn of events - the pair released a piece of music to coincide with the book's publication, on which you can hear mushrooms devouring a copy of the book. 

That is a slight indication of just what you're getting yourself into when you choose to listen to Cosmo's music. It's nothing if not educational - just wait until you hear about tardigrades. His latest album, Wake Up Calls, is set to be released tomorrow. The record's thirteen tracks feature a gloriously rich ensemble of birds and their songs. The record is intended both to celebrate the sounds of those birds around us, and to simultaneously highlight the peril that they face. About the record, Cosmo says: "I hope that this music may serve as a wake up call: to help us become more aware of the glorious polyphonic soundworlds that surround us before many of these voices become extinct in Britain, and to remind us not to take any of these creatures and the music that they make for granted."

Created across a nine-year period, the record has evolved through many different stages. Some pieces started life as presents for Cosmo's friends and family, intended as a peaceful alternative to traditionally jarring alarm clock sounds. A couple of the tracks were written for the People's March for Wildlife in September 2019, with the title of the album coming as a suggestion from acclaimed nature writer Robert Macfarlane in a conversation in the run up to the march. Nightjar, similarly, was written for an Extinction Rebellion protest in London. 

Across the record, we hear the song of birds found on the red and amber lists of endangered British birds (with the exception of the Robin and Blackbird, which aren't endangered... yet.) The full cast is (deep breath): Robin, Blackbird, Willow Warbler, Marsh Warbler, Ring Ouzel, Mistle Thrush, Nightingale, Dunnock, Sheldrake (Cosmo remarks "I couldn't help but include a recording of a Sheldrake, the bird that my family is named after, which is also on the amber list"), Nightjar, Short Eared Owl, Long Eared Owl, Little Owl, Barn Owl, Tawny Owl, Turtle Dove, Cuckoo, Skylark, Teal & Bittern. The album sees us travel through a day in the life of these wonderful creatures - from night with the Nightjar and Nightingale as the record opens, through dawn and day time, round to evening chorus, and drawing to a close with night again. 

It's difficult to pull a record like this apart, to highlight a favourite song or two. The project is best listened to in its entirety, given your full attention. I adore it from start to finish, and I'm frankly over the moon to have been allowed to listen to it early. I love Cosmo's work but there is something particularly important and pressing about this. I'm desperate for the first listen on my record player, to take some time out of my day to let the sounds of these birds fill my room and my ears. 

Finally - a couple more things to love about this record. The vinyl is made from recycled materials at one of the most environmentally friendly pressing plants in Europe, Deepgrooves. You can grab a copy from Bandcamp or Music Glue and pre-save the album digitally here. Some of the proceeds from the record will go to a number of of conservation charities which work with endangered birds, including Wild Justice, Birdlife International and The British Trust for Ornithology. 

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