So As To Preserve The Mystery is available on compact disc from Deep Water Acres / www.dwacres.com
Deep Water catalog description:
United Bible Studies return to Deep Water with what may be one of the crowning achievements of their ongoing musical journey. Since 2001 the Ireland/UK-based experimental folk ensemble has explored sounds ranging from traditional balladry to avant-garde noise; and while So As To Preserve The Mystery features plenty of the haunting vocal melodies and collective improvisation for which the group is known, it also rises beyond any genre and stylistic limits via an extended compositional logic that feels both centuries old and brand new. Alchemically marrying lo-fi psychedelic drones with sweeping orchestral arrangements, poetic folk song and classical structures; all in support of heartfelt paeans to nameless gods, apocalyptic requiems for the new/old world, and an overwhelming sense of wonder at the natural beauty of Éire and the Western Isles; this is United Bibles Studies at their transcendent finest. Seven tracks, 40 minutes.
'My first introduction to this Irish collective, and it's a haunting drift through their folk psyche. This is no high speed psych freak out - these are songs which make their own way through the air to each listener like a slow mist in the night. The wonderful opening track Tossing The Daisies comes and goes just like that. Like a subdued Godspeed! You Black Emperor with its sweeping strings, delicate piano and carefully placed guitar. Second track The Place Of Bays, sounds like Philosphers Stone's Gareth Mitchell singing over some early Dakota Suite songs; minimalist again but with a sparse beauty which belies its simplicity. Teampall Mhoulaidh continues the theme with more haunting vocals and mantra-esque score. The fourth track, Deireadh Fomháir, returns us to our introductory drifting mist. A beautiful, slow Experimental Audio Research style soundscape. A more prog approach comes in the shape of track 5, Winistre, which initially continues the instrumental path of the previous track, again with lots of Godspeed! style waves of sounds and chanting in the background, before some Donovan/Syd Barrett style vocals come into play accompanied by some lovely acoustic guitar. The penultimate track, An Gort Gan Geata, shares a similar style to the earlier The Place Of Bays. The gentle meandering of guitar ans sweeping orchestration continues like much the rest of the album. the final piece to this suite of music, islands, is based around some beautiful piano work and some improvisational vocals and narration like some sermon to a long lost deity. As the piano drifts off into the distance, the orchestral mist that has permeated the album from the start, slowly builds and fills the darkness completely until the last remaining note of the piano brings the album to its conclusion. This is certainly something very different from much of the usual psych that we see and read in Optical Sounds but the minimalism means its palette is much more engrossing and enchanting; dark, haunting, sweeping and oh so very wonderful! Fans of Flowers of Hell, Dakota Suite and Telstar Ponies and a lot of the 90s Kranky records output will definitely relate to and enjoy this.' JMmC, Optical Sounds
'In an effort to maintain a balanced sense of perspective, it is necessary to flambé ones objective juices, to periodically take a trip outside of what is often mistakenly referred to as your, “comfort zone”.
United Bible Studies‘ latest release, ‘So As To Preserve The Mystery’, could be construed as one such foray.
I have the utmost respect for Kevin McFadin and the truly eclectic output of his Sunrise Ocean Bender Record Label. Through this Kevin, I found myself transported to the Appalachian backwood mists, and the work of the equally idiosyncratic Kevin Moist, founding member of the band Evening Fires and the Deep Water Acres Record Label kingpin.
Evening Fires‘ recent, ‘Where I’ve Been Is Places And What I’ve Seen Is Things‘, was a truly standout release of earlier this year. Paradoxically, it is via Virginia and Pennsylvania that I complete the circle, back home here in Ireland, with my celtic brethren in United Bible Studies.
Any band describing their sound as, “Pastoral psychedelia and traditional song have remained the cornerstones of the band’s style, alongside collective improvisation that can take the form of extended drone-works or explosive outbursts of ecstatic noise”, whilst citing Atlantis as their home town, are guaranteed to pique my interest.
United Bible Studies was formed in Dublin in 2001 by David Colohan (Raising Holy Sparks) and James Rider (Cubs). Over the years they have crafted 20+ releases and have operated a revolving door “studentship”.
The band’s FB page states, “The lineup currently includes former Mellow Candle vocalist Alison O’Donnell, harpist Áine O’Dwyer and Michael Tanner (Plinth, Sharron Kraus, Mark Fry)”, the CD inlay card further adds, Paul Conlon, Casey Denman, Amanda Faery and Richard Moult to that illuminated roster.
Opening track, ‘Tossing The Daisies’, is a hauntingly unfolding, celtic drone saga; ‘The Place Of Bays’, opens with sparse lilting keys, the cliffs of Clare providing the backdrop for a temporal, plaintive lyric, set amongst an engagingly lush, ascending arrangement; ‘Teampall Mholuaidh’, or St Moluag’s church, on the Isle of Lewis, provides an inspiration – a place steeped in ancient healing worship, where St Ronan is said to have travelled on the back of a whale. The pre-christian tradition of the water spirit Seonaidh, conducts and weaves this magickal intoned symphony, traversing the ley lines; ‘Deireadh Fómhair’, or October also Harvest End in the gaelic calendar, is awash with delicately swirling, golden autumnal motifs; ‘Winistre’, from the Old English for winter, alluding to water and wet or unfavourable, opens to the peel of summoning bells – the invitation delivered, ushers in a medievally sonorous cacophony, a Hansel and Gretel-esque, dark woods mélange, waning to it’s conclusion, by way of a minstrelling poetic odyssey; ‘An Gort Gan Geata’, or Gate to Gort, again takes us back to Connacht and Galway Bay, for a track that feels achingly cloaked in this ancient landscape; Closing track, ‘Islands’, is a 9 minute plus epic, the gentle tip-toe discordant intro yields to a world weary vocal, (echoing a Johnny Cash-like quality – in his American Recordings twilight years), unfolds in a tale of “graveyard earth”, a mid-section drone, expands and envelops like rolling sea fog, in cushioning transfixive levitation. The closing lone piano key, perhaps suggestive of the signal bell of an Atlantic storm swept buoy.
There is something in the much maligned dirge that somehow breathes life, like a phoenix rising from the ashes, that I find truly spiritually uplifting. The yearning quality to this music is in my blood, and never fails to stir the echoes of my ancestral sea-faring past.
That United Bible Studies should choose Huginn & Muninn, from the old Norse for thought and memory – symbolised by twin ravens, collecting information for the allfather Odin, as the name for their own record label, speaks volumes – at least to those open minded enough to listen.
‘So As To Preserve The Mystery’, is music to massage the sonic temples of your psyche.
The sleeve notes show that this album was recorded, among other locations, in Huishinish – a windward Hebridean stepping stone to our Atlantean past. Also a location that the surfers path has called me to, and when there was no surf, there was the nearby lighthouse to visit. Staffin Bay is another listed location, which I have had the pleasure to acquaint.
As with the, Fairport Convention, All About Eve, Clannad and Runrig, listening pleasures of my youth, so United Bible Studies has again moored me to the land and sea-scapes of my forebears, the circular path alighting me once more, well within my comfort zone…' ianrobertson65.wordpress.com
'Readers of the Terrascope should need no introduction to the musical collective known as United Bible Studies. Since 2001 they have been creating music that is haunting, melancholic, psychedelic, filled with folk melodies and laced with exquisite drones. On this, their latest album, the energies are aligned perfectly, the result an astonishing collection of tunes that creep into your soul making it difficult to listen to anything else once you have heard it.
Opening with the beautiful “Tossing the Daisies” you are immediately drawn in to the album, soft notes and drones offering a undulating landscape over which Alison O'Donnell sings, the track followed by the even sweeter “The Place of Bays” Piano ans string using almost classical motifs with David Colohan wringing every emotion from the lyrics, a thing of great beauty indeed.
As the album progresses it seems to become more ethereal and distant, the drones cloaking the vocals with “Teampall Mholuaidh” seemingly the stepping stone for this transition, a lonely guitar signalling the change before “Diereadh Fomhair” shimmers into existence draping itself around the room and glistening like a sun-lit ocean.
Calling you in with a peal of bells, “”Winistre” is one of two longer pieces, another gorgeous tune that summons up ancient memories taking you deeper into the mysteries, a sense of timelessness, the musicians seemingly telepathic as they work together for the common good, strings, stringed instruments, percussion and vocals writhing together as the track moves forward until it is hard to tell which is which but easy to get lost in the sound, halfway through the piece lightens into a more traditional song form although the intensity remains and the haze of noise returns at the end.
As beautiful as autumn, “An Gort Gan Geata” is a gently aching song that highlights the musicians understanding of atmosphere in its gossamer construction and delicate feel.
To end the album “Islands” is nine minutes of brooding power mixed with gentle beauty and soft melodies, a summation of all that has gone before, the poetic lyrics matched by the melancholy sweetness of the music.
If, by some twist of fate, you have never heard any UBS before, then this would be an excellent place to start, if you are a fan then this could possibly be their finest offering so far, I look forward to the next one.' Simon Lewis, Terrascope Online.
'It is always a cause for celebration when wyrd folk collective United Bible Studies release a new album and 'So As To Preserve The Mystery' is indeed a recording that is a veritable gift for the listener. With a back catalogue of silver flecked gems already in their wake (such as 2014's 'Doineann' and 'Spoicke', or 2009's 'The Jonah') this new album continues the outfit's pursuit of rough hewn beauty and windswept otherworldliness. The collective this time around include some well known names from the experimental and folk worlds such as Michael Tanner (also of Plinth), David Colohan (also of Raising Holy Sparks), Richard Moult, Alison O'Donnell (Mellow Candle/The Owl Service) and Áine O'Dwyer, whose solo album 'Anything Bright or Startling' (search it out) is one of the most stunning releases of the last few years. Recorded between Ireland, the Western Isles of Scotland and the south coast of England 'So As To Preserve The Mystery' is an album that sings of the landscape, the elements and of the vast skies above.
Opener 'Tossing The Daisies' is a shimmering sunset of a song, gentle rattles of guitar and hushed cymbals holding the tension behind Alison O'Donnell's spectral vocals. Strings and piano emerge but their strength is in restraint, the song is perfection in its glacial and spooked simplicity. Next, 'The Place Of Bays' introduces O'Dwyer's harp, soft washes of keyboard and Colohan's distinctive and evocative vocals. Orchestral swells and an unearthly choir build and peak until analogue keyboards gradually fade the track out; this heartbreaking and wind torn lament is undoubtedly one of the highlights of the album. Indeed, this is music that has more ambition, emotion and creative blood in its ancient veins than just about any other act at work today; trust me, you must hear this. 'Teampall Mholuaidh' returns O'Donnell to vocal duties accompanied by the haunted harmonies of Aine O'Dwyer (who adds a wonderful ghostly sheen to a number of tracks), layered psych guitar, choral strings and cascading harp. Like watching a storm out at sea this feels both equally thrillingly stirring and shiver inducing. 'Deireadh Fomhair' is a mellotron and string soaked quiet howl into the horizon, harp and piano glistening across sombre drones as the wind begins to whistle and sweep around the music itself. These are sounds that will break your heart. 'Winistre' begins with the sound of church bells and bowed strings before the buzz and hum of guitars and bouzouki enter, the maelstrom growing like a swarm of swallows around the gentle acoustic plucking. Tension is raised and released and raised again, as if on the swell of the waves or on the wind itself. Mixed male vocals begin a folk rhyme as the swell recedes, reminding us that at its heart this is traditional (albeit experimental) music, until the strings and guitar come crashing in in a heart stopping moment of sheer perfection.'An Gort Gan Geata' is more reflective and hushed, Colohan's voice framed by icy, twinkling drones and flute, evoking something of a longing, of places remembered and known. This segues into 'Islands', a wintry ballad that builds upon layers of keyboard and dramatic string stabs before the light begins to fall to dusk and a wash of warm, shimmering, silvery drones cover all that is there. It is absolutely breath taking.
The album is described as 'in support of heartfelt paeans to nameless gods, apocalyptic requiems for the new/old world, and an overwhelming sense of wonder at the natural beauty of Éire and the Western Isles' and it succeeds admirably in its quest. Quite simply this is one of the best albums I've heard not just this year but in a long while. A beautiful sadness and nostalgia permeates the album and it is an incredibly powerful listen, despite its relative finesse and gentleness. There are not many acts who can conjure such wild, open landscapes in their music, with such emotive impact and sensitivity, yet United Bible Studies do this time and again. Essential.
Available now on CD at the Deep Water Acres website with beautiful artwork and photography by Richard Moult adorning the sleeve.' Grey Malkin, The Active Listener
'Across a career that has more highlights than this famously ever-shifting line-up has had members, United Bible Studies remain eminently capable of the one thing that ambient, experimental, atmospheric neo-folk ought to have: the ability to surprise. And keep surprising. It is that which keeps people returning to their catalog, long after other bands in similar fields had either given up or fallen out; that which ensures their latest, So As To Preserve the Mystery effectively does exactly what it says on the cover. It preserves the mystery.
Fragile in some spots, raging in others, and buoyed throughout by instruments and voices that cling to you even when they’re silent, it is a full sound, realized melodies and firmly footed dreams – in some ways, UBS’s most accessible album yet, but only if you’re prepared to access the things that they offer. The instrumentation is lush, but skeletal too, its symphonies built as much around the space between the notes as the notes themselves, and lyrics that offer only random clues as to what might really be happening.
It’s a continuation, without ever being obvious about it, of the balladic traditions of pre-4industrial Ireland (the band’s home base), not in terms of subject matter, so much as atmosphere and mood. Stories are told, messages delivered, but the allegories are sonic, not spoken, and “progress” has transformed the landscapes into dreamscapes, a reminder that the veil that always divided the natural world from the supernatural one has been reinforced not only by cynicism and science, but also by the passing of time itself. It used to be said that the past is a foreign country. It’s now a distant echo as well, but still its tendrils reach out across the centuries, to find willing resonance within So As To Preserve the Mystery.' Dave Thompson, Goldmine Magazine
United Bible Studies' new album So As To Preserve the Mystery is out now on Deep Water. Recorded at various locations across Ireland, Scotland and England, the album is comprised of sophisticated and atmospheric music that brings together aspects of folk, neoclassical, experimental music and beyond. Teampall Mholuaidh is a kind of folky experimental dreampop with prog and psych touches. Deiradh is an evocative, film score-esque composition for which I'm having trouble finding adequate words to describe it fully. Words like 'dreamlike', 'atmospheric' and 'ambient' come close, but fail to portray the full depth of this piece. Winistre begins as an eerie mix of sighing harmonium, church bells, meandering, semi-abstract acoustic guitar work, and ethereal effects; part feverish dream and part chilling incidental music from a psychological thriller. Then an unexpected vocal section comes in, the song essentially transcending genre, but with a deep sense of sadness that aficionados of melancholic indiepop will identify with. Islands is a brooding neoclassical piece combined with dark sophisticated balladry and ambient drones. Fans of Mellow Candle, Flibbertigibbet or The Owl Service may be interested to know that Alison O'Donnell appears on this album, although one is not to expect the music here to sound anything like the bands she was involved in previously. There are folk aspects to some of the music here, but folk is far from the main emphasis. It's a tough album to pigeonhole, but 'experimental, filmic, art compositions with depth' pretty much sums up United Bible Studies' approach.' Bliss/Aquamarine
UBS is a collective from the UK & Ireland. It would be as difficult to summarize as it would be to understate the amazing achievements of everyone involved, which is part of what makes the cooperation in this band so incredible. The contributions are varied but are connected by a common thread of beauty as well as a delicate approach. Almost hesitant at times, it’s as remarkably human as it is divine. The shimmering drones create pastoral scenes and various instrumentations come cleverly into the foreground before new scenes begin to develop and fade. “So As To Preserve The Mystery” is a contemplative listen and one of the best they have produced to date. Tanner Anderson, The Amalgam
'Nonostante i componenti della sua variabile line-up non cessino di condurre le proprie ricerche singolarmente o nel quadro di una pluralità di progetti collaborativi, ciclicamente il collettivo avant-folk United Bible Studies si riunisce per dedicarsi alla stesura di un album organicamente concepito, attestante lo stadio di evoluzione delle sue esplorazioni, diverse ma complementari, delimitate soltanto dal comune orizzonte degli aspetti più arcani della cultura tradizionale britannica.
Lo sconfinato terreno di ricerca tra folk, sperimentazioni elettro-acustiche, psichedelia e ambient del collettivo trova in “So As To Preserve The Mystery” la propria sintesi attuale, che adesso più che mai sarebbe limitante circoscrivere al solo percorso collettivo. Il lavoro segue infatti temporalmente e, almeno in parte, si pone in linea di continuità concettuale con l’ultima prova di Richard Moult (“Last Night I Dreamt Of Hibrihteselle”), che compare appunto tra la decina di artefici delle sue sette tracce, insieme, tra gli altri, ad Amanda Feery, Alison O’Donnell, Áine O’Dwyer e Michael Tanner, che affiancano nell’occasione il mentore del collettivo David Colohan.
Esplicitamente votato fin dal titolo ad enucleare e rendere tangibili le componenti di misterioso misticismo caratteristiche di tutta l’esperienza del collettivo, “So As To Preserve The Mystery” ne è anche l’album in apparenza più accessibile, non solo per la pur decisiva presenza tra i suoi solchi dell’elemento vocale, che in forma declamatoria più che di vero e proprio canto caratterizza quasi tutti i brani. Senz’altro la vocalità evocativa di Alison O’Donnell e Amanda Feery e quella ieratica di Colohan ha un ruolo decisivo nell’accompagnare o – più spesso – nell’introdurre brani che intraprendono poi numerose diverse direzioni, ma a rendere i nemmeno quaranta minuti del lavoro una galleria di suggestioni piana e coesa è soprattutto la gradualità degli snodi compositivi, che avanzano attraverso movimenti lenti e circolari, instillando uno stato di trance avvolgente, che avvicina davvero al mondo dell’immateriale.
È, ancora una volta, una religiosità improntata un ascetismo laico e insondabile quella veicolata dalle evocazioni eteree della O’Donnel su “Tossing The Daisies” e dal sinuoso lirismo della O’Dwyer su “Teampall Mholuaidh”, che in poco più di tre minuti combina arioso camerismo e dolente psichedelia elettrica. Una mutevolezza camaleontica, naturale e molto fluida rappresenta del resto – quasi paradossalmente – il tratto caratterizzante l’intero lavoro, nel quale si susseguono gli arcani tocchi acustici e le aperture orchestrali di “The Place Of Bays” e le saturazioni ambientali dell’unico strumentale “Deireadh Fómhair”, non a caso collocato al centro della tracklist a mo’ di giro di boa tra una prima parte animata da lieve afflato poetico e una seconda dai toni più foschi e misteriosi.
In quest’ultima parte riaffiora in maniera decisa l’attitudine del collettivo a una visionaria miscela di folk e drone, dai tratti ancor più cangianti che nel corso dello stesso brano (“Winistre”) spaziano da drone ghiacciati a stille acustiche, da un’invocazione obliqua a modulazioni avvolgenti che ne fanno una piccola sinfonia corale di oltre nove minuti. Che si tratti di un folk dai contorni orchestrali (“An Gort Gan Geata”) o di partiture pianistiche completate da tenebrose timbriche neo-folk (“Islands”), il collettivo riesce a contornare i propri brani di un’aura avvolgente grazie a loop armonici sugli archi e a un’ambience satura, come quella suggella la conclusione del lavoro in un crescendo estatico e luminoso.
In “So As To Preserve The Mystery” i componenti di United Bible Studies hanno così nuovamente materializzato, in maniera più lucida e coinvolgente che mai, un incantesimo in grado di proiettare in una dimensione solitaria, rapita e profondamente meditativa tra storie e luoghi di un tempo perduto, i cui echi ricorrono in una rassegna di voci narranti, note e suoni combinati con capacità di suggestione inusitate.' Music Won't Save You.