Erland Cooper – Hether Blether


At some point in May, a letter dropped through my letterbox with a handwritten envelope that stood apart from the endless clusters of bills that seem to be our only engagement with the UK postal service these days. Inside was a signed map of Orkney created by musician Erland Cooper containing walking routes and birdspotting locations. That delivery accompanied the imminent release of Hether Blether, the concluding instalment of Cooper’s trilogy of releases that celebrate the collection of islands where he grew up.

Where 2018’s Solan Goose eulogised the islands’ birdlife and 2019’s Sule Skerry the sea, Hether Blether turns its attention on the land. Sort of. The land in question is the mythological island of the album’s title, a folkloric, missing location that naturally does not appear on the map that Cooper sent me. What does appear on that map, however, are the likes of ‘Noup Head’, ‘Longhope’ and ‘Rousay’, all tracks on the new album, continuing the theme of the previous two albums wherein Cooper named pieces of music after specific locations.

Resplendent in lush, yet fragile string arrangements and choral texture, the tracks on Hether Blether are joyous, celebratory even, albeit in a self-reflective, muted fashion. The synth passages and field recordings that ran through Skule Skerry here take a backseat, emerging briefly on pieces like the stirring, slowly evolving ‘Skreevar’, one of the most beatific moments here. We once again eavesdrop on the local, distinctive Scottish / not Scottish accents on ‘Longhope’ and explore Orkney’s mythology through the strangely affecting poetry of John Burnside on ‘Noup Head’, each word in Kathryn Joseph’s narration containing a sort of gravity and poise that makes you yearn for the islandscape of Cooper’s youth.

Appropriately enough, it is Cooper’s own voice that we hear more prominently throughout Hether Blether, most notably on the album’s centrepiece, ‘Peedie Breeks’, where he is accompanied by poignantly seesawing strings, bells, and operatic vocals that drift in like an icy breeze. His is a lilting, tender voice, effortlessly tugging at your heartstrings as he delivers this song of innocence, playfulness and the unbridled, unshakeable optimism of youth.

Hether Blether by Erland Cooper is released May 29 2020 by Phases.

Words: Mat Smith

(c) 2020 Further.

Erland Cooper – Sule Skerry

Sule Skerry is the second album in a three part sequence by composer and multi-instrumentalist Erland Cooper, intended to evoke the air, land – and, for this LP, the sea – of his native Orkney. As with last year’s Solan Goose, this collection of nine pieces shines a spotlight on Cooper’s fastidious approach to recording, and his borderless, free-thinking arrangements.

Comprising field recordings made on Orkney, strings, tape loops, electronics, vocals, poetry and a diverse set of collaborators, Sule Skerry is a concept album with naturalistic poise. The ebb, flow, power and violence of the North Sea is apparent throughout these pieces, most prominently on the evocative looped recordings of wind gently buffeting the masts of fishing boats and the enveloping see-sawing strings of ‘Flattie’, also featuring readings by Kris Drever and Kathryn Joseph.

Perhaps the most surprising of all these delicate and evocative pieces is ‘First Of The Tide’, which opens with a gently pulsing Moog sequence from Benge. Over the course of this short, journeying statement, Cooper nudges this piece imperceptibly from a plaintive synthscape to a piano and string evocation of the same motif, brilliantly augmented by haunting operatic vocals and a denouement of waves gently lapping the shore.

Sule Skerry by Erland Cooper is out now on Phases.

Words: Mat Smith