Large Plants – The Thorn : Album Review

Jack Sharp mixes up a potent brew of primitive proto prog, with echoes of dark folk infusing through the grooves.

Release Date: 17th November 2023

Label: Ghost Box

Format: CD / vinyl / digital

If Large Plants is a name unfamiliar, hopefully the label, Ghost Box, may not be, the home of those artists ‘exploring the misremembered musical history of a parallel world,’ which couldn’t be more At The Barrier if it tried. Where psych, folk and electronica come together, their roster weave soundtracks for which the epithet “wyrd” could, or should, have been invented, rather than the sometimes twee Americans, and their theft of the invented adjective. Large Plants is basically Jack Sharp and his studio, although a live band version also exists. Performing simultaneously as a solo folk artist, he has also been a member of Wolf People, with that project currently on hold. This is his second album as Large Plants, and offers a slightly more pastoral feel to the darker colours of last year’s The Carrier.

Tendril starts all something wicked this way comes, a disturbing rustle in the hedgerow, bubbling Moog bass, spiky guitars and clattering percussion. When Sharp starts to sing, a frisson of Ozzy enters the ear, before he finds his own voice, the instrumentation flailing around his voice in a maelstrom of frantic activity, stopping near as soon as it starts. After that lesson around how to do it in 2 minutes 38, the title track is more of a processional, led by jangly guitars taking up a gavotte. Double tracked vocals invoke unease, while the guitars stutter against and around each other, each maxed up max to a delightfully spindly treble. The solo when it comes is unhinged, a wail of blurring notes. Like the description offered of the plant in the lyric, “it scratches and it stings“. Wasted And Tired begins as an agreeable canter of sparring guitars, ahead of becoming a putdown to the late arrival of a perceived paramour: “if only I had nothing better to do“, Withered And Died with malice aforethought. The bass is a constant rumble, using the few notes employed effectively and emphatically.

This Lock Will Hold, again with twin guitars, suddenly wafts in a memory of Wishbone Ash at their proggy and slightly folk-hued height. A mellotron applies chordal textures in the background, the drum style all falling downstairs in a wooden overcoat. This feel lingers into The Death Of Pliny, with only the trebly guitar tone to shake that off. Quite what it’s about, I am unsure, my classical education failing when I need it most. But I’m rather liking this, rough and ready lo-fi integral to the overall experience. What sounds like vibraphone is used effectively for District Messenger, a sound we could all use more of, it widening the mood, as a twangy guitar overarches slowly and portentously. This would be a wonderful festival band at twilight. Or maybe dawn.

White Horse enters at more of a, sorry, gallop, before a reframing of momentum. If garage prog were ever a thing, and it should be, this could be a template. A love song, I think, the chorus of Sharps suggesting it more complicated than that: “you hold me tight and fear me not, whatever I become….” It’s my favourite thus far, and I found myself playing this time and time again. Hope Is A Feathered Thing starts off as a saxon blues, vocal and guitar singing the same tune, before lurching off into baroque and roll, with vocal aahs. The wyrd then becomes progressively weirder, for Every Single day, auguring in BBC Radiophonic Workshop style electronica, with driving forward drums. The vocals, when they come, almost chant their mantra against the flow, like a haunted monastery at midnight. It suddenly hits me that the vocals throughout seem to have knowledge of Mass In F Minor, the Electric Prunes’ version, if a touch more raggedy, with the guitar sound possibly even similarly derived.

No Time To Make It Right is Kentish rockabilly à la Billy Childish, but again with those slightly tainted choirboy vocals. A pipe organ is keeping pace with the guitars and glides gloriously alongside to the close. Which leaves only Fire Alarm to close proceedings, with spiky guitars spiralling over a rolling rhythm section. It’s a metaphor, clearly: “I can’t shake the feeling I’m running out of time, a boiling feeling burning in my mind“. Whether the alarm in question is either the realisation or the resolution, I don’t know, but it closes the door well on this odd mix of styles, altogether a bizarre invocation of counter intuition. Garage prog it is! Deffo one for the likes of Bearded Theory and similar gatherings of that ilk.

Try District Messenger for size:

Large Plants online: Official Website / Facebook / X (formerly Twitter) / Instagram

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