Despite its namesake, Spectre Folk is not flavor-of-the-month, indie-psychedelic campfire music played through an acid-coated filter, but rather the haunting and ruminative compositions of the dark forests and moonlit lakes beyond. Written and conceived by Magik Marker Pete Nolan, with help from brood members Julie Tomlinson-Nolan and Violet Nolan, Compass, blanket, lantern, mojo, his second full-length release under the Spectre Folk banner, is dissonant and organic: humming guitars mingled with tape echoes, vibes, and found sounds. Although it lurks in the same sonic vicinity as Vanishing Voice and Wooden Wand, Compass, with its plodding sense of experimentation, carves out a niche significant enough to sound fresh. The album is too fully realized to allow Spectre Folk to be considered a “side project,” as it exudes mood and atmosphere that falls well outside the no-wave noise-mongering of the Magik Markers.
With a patient interplay between traditional instrumentation and atmospheric space, this vinyl-only release is a mature record budding with mystique and unexpected turns. Rhythm is embedded into the mix in favor of ambient melody. Instrumental tracks like “Dusty’s Rag,” “8 Foot Wings” and “Toot! Toot!” provide the record’s sonic theme, as they churn under vibes and long-form electric guitar drones. “Groovy Garbage Man” builds on this with its feedback-laden narrative. And “Ages Have Passed” merges these with Krautrock tendencies. Only with “Burning Bridge,” the album’s focal point and only track to possess more traditional structure, is Compass’ overall sense of spontaneity temporarily abandoned for a beautifully unhinged blues song. It breezily creeps forth under acoustic guitar chords that swell toward and ultimately recede from pop dynamics, all while building feedback blares into the mix, lifting the song to a dramatic climax.
Most compelling, however, is Compass’ density. A requisite for full appreciation of this record, headphones reveal profound depth beyond its guitars and wayward vocal effects. There amid the humming field recordings, desolate electronics, and cooing children (Violet Nolan) are tracks whose creation required not only imagination, but also love. For Spectre Folk, this notion leaves wide and intriguing territory upon which to make future records. And for the adventurous musical wanderings of Pete Nolan, Compass, blanket, lantern, mojo signals yet another dimension to be explored.