Savath and Savalas ‘Folk Songs For Trains, Trees And Honey’ (Warp, 2000)

An album can be revelatory in any number of ways. Perhaps it arrives at the right time in your life to be particularly resonant, or it might reveal a whole area of music you didn’t realise existed. I clearly remember the first time I heard ‘Folk Songs For Trains, Trees And Honey’. 

Having spent the latter part of my teens convincing people I was, in fact, a supreme and benevolent messiah of obscure and engaging music, it was a shock when a friend played this entirely unfamiliar record during a particularly punishing hangover. What I discovered was nine tracks of Latin/Cuban-infused downtempo electronica that redirected that creeping ethanol dread away from my consciousness.

Initial thoughts focussed on how Scott Herren – aka Prefuse 73, Piano Overlord and, for this incarnation, Savath And Savalas – had created something that blended a reclined, lo-fi chill with a subtle sense of the uncanny in a way that was new to me. It creeps like amber honey, covering everything around it with a satisfying combination of surface sweetness and uneasy translucence. 

But my second thought (reflecting, to some degree, the tenacious depths of my smugness at that time) was, “How have I not heard this before? I should be the one telling people about this”. I became a bit obsessed with it (particularly on prickly Sunday mornings), and that first listen marked a crucial moment of realisation: that the discovery of music is infinitely more enjoyable than proselytising about it.

‘Folk Songs For Trains, Trees And Honey’ is an exploration of movement and scale. ‘Beginning’ starts at the level of the particle, sonic bits and pieces bumble and bobble together, as if the titular train has rumbled through a valley, the music emerging from the settling of dust. ‘Transportation Theme’ widens the lens and catches up with that moving carriage. It sounds as though Rotary Connection have soundtracked one of those little films from ‘Sesame Street’ about pollen, or the way Inuit children travel to school. 

By the time ‘Journey’s Homes’ arrives, the frame has widened further to encapsulate a nocturnal landscape, the twinkling lights and heat haze removing the harshness of proximity. It sounds like The Carpenters’ ‘Close To You’, but picked apart and pumped back into a Greyhound bus station by Terry Riley. It is beautiful and brilliant.

This feels like a precious gem that has been hiding in plain sight, but ultimately any mysterious status it may have is irrelevant – the album itself is as intriguing and engaging as anything from Herren’s more familiar aliases. But, like many lesser-known releases on popular labels, by artists under their more secretive pseudonyms, the reward of discovery with ‘Folk Songs For Trains, Trees And Honey’ is worth every second of the effort. Especially if you’ve a bit of a fuzzy head

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