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Milkweed on a narrow boat wearing scary white masks.

Milkweed, The Mound People – a review

As unsettling as ever, the self-proclaimed 'slacker trad' duo, Milkweed, return with a new collection, this time inspired by the contents of Bronze Age grave. Gavin McNamara finds the experience strangely moreish.

Release Date
5 March 2023
Milkweed, The Mound People
Eight tracks that chop, loop, stretch, bend and ultimately disturb, Milkweed's latest collection is the aural equivalent of "darkness and shadows and the flicker of tallow candles". If Weirdshire is your particular bag, 'The Mound People' ought to keep you transfixed for some time.

There should be a name for that sensation when, as a child, you nagged away at a loose tooth no matter how much it hurt. When you welcomed the pain. When the discomfort was addictive. If there were a name for such a thing you would be able to attach it to this cassette/download-only release by the mysterious Milkweed. It’s discomforting, feels more than a little odd but is intensely addictive. 

By all accounts, the band were sent a document, published in 1974 by archaeologist Peter Glob, concerning artifacts from a bronze age burial. It’s a list of the talismanic objects found in a grave. The list becomes the lyrics; the unnerving feeling of cracking open a casket becomes the music. Over the eight, very short tracks, Milkweed pour grave-dirt into a malfunctioning music box, they summon the ghostly last words from the long dead, they catch terrified whispers coming through the branches of a cemetery yew. 

The longest track on the album is ‘Weasel Bones’, and even this is only just over two minutes long. A spookily delicate melody is shrouded in creaks and cracks – an old-fashioned magnetic tape stretched so much that it dips and drops, sound falling into the gaps between worlds. A song that could be hundreds of years old is forced through a 404 sampler until it wobbles and shudders to a halt. You might describe it as weird folk, folk horror, slacker trad; you might simply describe it as very strange indeed.

The 404 is repeatedly used across The Mound People to chop, loop, stretch, bend and break. On ‘Mountain Cranberries’ a simple, nightmarish tune occasionally glitches and slips, a high female voice murmuring from the other side as it’s subsumed by crackles. ‘Maggot Skins’ is washed in feedback, clipped coins jangle across a blasted moor. There’s darkness and shadows and the flicker of tallow candles. 

The 25 seconds of ‘The Sorceress’ sets up radio babble from a different time; it becomes a chant, a muezzin wail. It is profoundly disturbing yet you long for more, you need to feel the nauseating chew on that rotten tooth. ‘Blackbird’s Nest’ is an echo-y loop full of clicks and cracks, creaks and crackles. It is folk song thrown onto the breeze of a mythical world, blowing around a heather-filled valley, drifting away, coming back. The female voice on ‘Bronze Sword’ is clearer, sharper, but it’s operating right at the top of its capabilities. Stripped of any other instrumentation it sounds like the sort of thing that Alan Lomax could have recorded in the most broken down, far-flung, desperately hidden corners of the Appalachians. It’s the most eerie list of the grave goods.

The first track on the album, ‘Eelgrass’, is the prologue that gives the whole game away. A strange, treated female voice quavers over wonky, organic electronics. A glitching 404 threatens to malfunction entirely as an ancient, creepy world appears through the mist, carried by the simplest of guitar melodies. A primitive Stick in the Wheel (although even they never felt this dislocated), the track promises a subterranean place filled with “incredible objects”.

Across its eight tracks, The Mound People manages slightly more than ten minutes of music. Those ten minutes are untethered from reality, they stretch and disappear. They are the equivalent of being lost in the darkest forest, disorientating and confusing. They are 10 minutes that you immediately want to repeat, despite (or possibly because of) the discomfort. 

The Mound People by Milkweed is out now and can be purchased via Bandcamp.