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Birds in the Brickwork ~ A Strange Peace

Written by on 12.10.2023

A Strange Peace can be seen as an extension of last year’s Recovery.  The name Birds in the Brickwork is now capitalized on Bandcamp while remaining lower case on the physical edition, representing a gradual return to the time before.  Back then, Ben Holton was recovering from injury while enduring the pandemic, finding meaning in the mundane, which he lovingly documented in a series of photos.  The booklet for A Strange Peace continues this exploration, displaying an affection for the marginal and liminal: rippled images in puddles, half-drawn curtains, a patch of weeds.  Few others would highlight a collection of leaves near a sealed panel or photograph a building from within the woods looking out.  Holton lends dignity to an abandoned glove, a mask stuck in a tree, a pile of soggy newspapers.  A traffic cone is shown on its side, and as if apologetic, Holton frames a second standing up, a metaphor for his own journey.

The music is softer than that of Recovery, but just as confident, retaining the hints of post-rock and shoegaze while gently shifting to ambient forests.  When writing about the last album, we noted that the artist sounded at peace; now peace is integrated into the title.  Holton has continued the “afternoon suburban loop,” but times have changed, as has he.  The contrast between nature and suburb reflects an inner tension; this strange peace lies always on the border of being disturbed.

The first notes of bucolic guitar are a harbinger of the whole.  “From Green to Grey” describes the transition from lawn to driveway, grass to asphalt, each making inroads on the other.  The strange peace that Holton feels finds comfort in each.  Suburban pleasures are still pleasures, although one may feel a twinge of guilt for enjoying them.  As the track dissolves into electronics, the dichotomy is exposed.  Even here, the sound is more abraded than abrasive.  The same principle holds true for “A Seldom Seen Way,” piano against a background of static, a fragile coexistence.  A drone rises in the background like a factory hum, but never dominates.

Wobbly melodies permeate “Leaving the Path,” which stops and restarts in its closing seconds.  In a suburb, one may leave the sidewalk to encounter the woods, or leave the woods to encounter the sidewalk.  One wonders what Robert Frost would make of the choice.  The regimented percussion of “Industry Today” suggests automation, albeit in a kind way; not everything modern is wrong.  A strange peace may also be a tentative balance.  Hearing the birds in “A Lost Place,” one recalls the name under which Holton records; this fragile coexistence has been there from the start.

When the artist returns to “A Still Room,” the setting becomes a suburban version of still waters or a still soul.  The room conveys a peaceful feeling akin to that of a pond.  This modern transference, strange as it is, rings true.  (Richard Allen)

“A Strange Peace” is Ben Holton’s latest album, capturing the beauty and tension of suburban life through gentle, ambient music.

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