The listener sits in a clearing in the forest. Synthesized flute serenades from the shadows, ushering a new state of consciousness. Soft ambient sound and a knocking drone — perhaps a twig on tin — gradually become heavier and heavier, breaking suddenly to the stillness of a crackling campfire. And so Erm + Nickname invite the listener to Woodland Ritual with their opening track, fittingly named “The Ritual.”
“The Enchantment” introduces more variety of sound with the ephemerality of free jazz. An extraterrestrial slither circumambulates the listener. It marks the beginning of a sermon that is at times muffled, but other times clear: “Do you see what I see? / Do you see what comes out of the ground? / Spiders and the bugs…” The slithering slows to a distorted chant over an instrument mimicking an organ, adopting a liturgical feel as the song closes into the chirping birds of “Early Morning Fly Chorus.”
“Campfire Beginning” is more introspective, shifting the listener’s focus from the trees and earth surrounding them to neuroses. “Flies are here / Biting my brains, my brains, my brains / The flies are here to bite my brains, my brains, my brains.”
The listener rolls back behind their eyes in “The Light & The Dark,” as sporadic bursts of saxophone amuse the flies as they feast.
The crackle in “Campfire Ending” brings the listener back to the forest, and the comfort and safety of the light. A hollow voice soothes, “We came from the dark, we came from the dark / We came into the light, we came into the light.” The voice trails off into the crackling fire and the sound of a strong wind rustling leaves. The song ends suddenly with a howl.
Erm + Nickname are longtime collaborators, Andrew Newham and Nicholas Langley. Woodland Ritual was recorded over four days around a campfire in East Sussex, England. The repetition of sounds and percussion bring cohesion to the album as one narrative, while still managing to evoke a neo-pagan appreciation of the spirits that dominate our thoughts when we are left alone in the woods.
Erm + Nickname are not the first musicians to record incantations over the sounds of fire and rustling leaves, though they do it well. “Campfire Ending” is especially reminiscent of the song “Hang On To Each Other” by Thee Silver Mt. Zion Memorial Orchestra released a decade ago. The decision to divide Woodland Ritual into individual tracks when it plays almost seamlessly as a concept album brings a conservative level of production to an album that is otherwise experimental in format. This distinguishes Erm + Nickname from some contemporaries working with found sounds, artists such as Charles Barabé, Jean-Sébastian Truchy, or Maria Marzaioli whose compositions often demand longer endurance. When listening to experimental sound, it is rare that a listener can skip to the next section as easily as they can with Woodland Ritual.
As such, this album’s greatest strength is also its greatest weakness. To isolate any track from Woodland Ritual is to alienate it from its concept, which is intoxicatingly spiritual and visceral left whole.