Music Reviews
Soft Wounds

Songs of Green Pheasant Soft Wounds

(Rusted Rail) Buy it from Insound Rating - 8/10

I concluded my 2007 review of Song of Green Pheasant’s Gyllyng Street by suggesting that Duncan Sumpner, the man behind the SOGP moniker, was suitably equipped to continue the proud tradition of Fat Cat Records. Having refined his formula across a trio of full-lengths, I figured Sumpner would be one the label’s leading lights for years to come. It was something of a shock to learn – nearly five years later, I hasten to add – that Sumpner had moved on to pastures new. Fat Cat’s considerable loss, however, is Rusted Rail’s gain, because Sumpner has once again delivered the goods on Soft Wounds, the fourth album of his career.

Sumpner has always tended to favour relatively brief, cohesive records, and Soft Wounds is no exception. Its eight compositions all sound like the work of the same artist, with the same clear goal in mind, at the same point in time. It may be five years since Gyllyng Street, but nothing about Soft Wounds suggests a lengthy or frequently interrupted gestation.

Teenwolf is a truly exquisite melange of deft percussion, distant horns, and subtle guitar textures, and it provides Soft Wounds with a wonderfully warm start. Although it’s one of the finest songs I’ve heard this year, it could be a little too strong to open this record; the impact of the following tracks Self Portrait With a Dog and Deaf Sarah is diminished on early listens by unrealistic hopes for ‘more of the same’. Now I’m reasonably well acquainted with Song of Green Pheasant and even I had to re-calibrate my expectations a little; once I had geared myself up for the slower tempo and more instrumental nature of the rest of Soft Wounds, I found I could enjoy it whole lot more.

If Teenwolf is Soft Wounds’ standout moment, the nine-minute-plus Flesheaters is undoubtedly its most ambitious. Sumpner demonstrates his impressive compositional talent here, gently teasing the song in subtle new directions in a way that seems almost effortless. In this way, though not sonically, Flesheaters recalls Gyllying Street’s sublime centrepiece West Coast Profiling. Few critics choose to comment on Sumpner’s vocal abilities, but it’s well worth pointing out that the harmonies on this track from 5:01 onwards are really rather beautiful, too.

The final highlight is the dreamy pastoral folk number, Lemon Yellow, which provides Soft Wounds with a satisfyingly memorable climax. Don’t be fooled by the understated nature of Sumpner’s songcraft or the lack of fanfare that has greeted this January release – Soft Wounds is one of the year’s first great albums and it deserves to be heard.