Agent Starling – Constellation of Birds review in Eighth Day Magazine, written by Dave Hammond
Startling Agent Starling album takes flight and heads for the stars
‘Constellation of Birds’ is the third release in a year from Agent Starling, a band centred around Lou Duffy-Howard (Red Guitars, Loudhailer Electric Company) and Quentin Budworth (Suns of Arqa, Celtarabia). Conceived during lockdown, both bring their own skills to the sound of the band- Lou with her distinctive, driving bass and Quentin with his prominent and experimental hurdy-gurdy.
Despite being largely instrumental with bass and hurdy-gurdy, the variety of music and styles is quite astounding. Elements of dance, psychedelia, Eastern (both middle and far) mysticism, drone and indie folk run seamlessly through the tracks, presenting a heady and, at times, intoxicating mix of songs and cinematic style soundtracks. It’s obvious the main protagonists are serious students of music from many decades (if not centuries!), and the addition of strings, electronic sounds and spoken word only enhances the feeling that, while the music being played is a blend of both old and new, this is a forward-looking album.
The versatility of the hurdy-gurdy is shown in the first two tracks, the first being enhanced by layered harmonies and scratchy violin in a paean to the beauty of nature. The smell of incense pervades the air. ‘Leave No Trace’ has a trance like beat and a keyboard line that, unexpectedly, evokes memories of The Who’s ‘Baba O’Riley’. The track is quite danceable in a cross legged, hands in the air kind of style. In keeping with the explorative, as in mixing the old and new, traditional with modern, ‘Hälleforsnäsar’ is an arrangement of an old Swedish folk tune which works perfectly well in adding another dimension to the flow of the album with its more ambient, even ethereal feel. Another string to the bow is added with the spoken word of ‘Paqaratz’ and its diatribe against the current government, which is driven by some rather exotic sounding percussion. More ‘found sounds’ weave their way into ‘Midsommer’ which invokes an earthy spirit of worship with its mix of hurdy-gurdy drone and chant like outro. The next track drags you in with its insistent charm until the final ‘Have your cake and eat it’ drags you, startlingly, from its hypnotic pull. Close call, that. Shadowland starts like the most contemporary sounding track on the album, fabulous bass line and vocal from Lou, while the hurdy-gurdy, played as it is here, sounds like the equivalent of a mediaeval synthesiser.
The penultimate track, ‘Bridget Cruise’ is a traditional Irish waltz played in what can only be described as a Geisha style and is really rather lovely, while the closing ‘The Master Mason’s Dream’ has a bass line that ascends and descends while a bell tolls, a Cathedral organ chimes and Lou’s spoken word entices us into a world of natural beauty.
The hurdy-gurdy is an often heard about, but an often less heard instrument in contemporary music, so it’s fascinating to hear it take a prominent position in the sound over the course of a full album, proving its ability to be both traditional and modern at the same time. A wonderful achievement. Dave Hammond Eighth Day Magazine
The album is available via the link below: