When I first heard that Archie Churchill-Moss was crafting a solo album, I was filled with excitement. There aren’t many melodeon players like Archie. Where others may see impossibilities within the instrument’s limitations, he sees a series of challenges, using these as footholds to propel him up a mountain of opportunities the instrument offers him. Each challenge becomes a logic problem, waiting to be solved in any number of different ways, each revealing a new sound, rhythmic possibility, or harmony option open to the player. This kind of thinking is exactly what we need within music – people who fall in love with understanding how they can extend the boundaries far beyond what others may see.
Fans of Archie may have heard him play in a variety of different line-ups – surrounded by a myriad of pedals with his duo partner, Tom Moore, alongside a full drumkit and electric guitars with folk-rock band, False Lights, or else adding some squeezebox to performances with Eliza Carthy, Cara Dillon, Sam Kelly. The list goes on. In each line-up, Archie’s playing adds a different element to the music, always sounding unique to himself while remaining sensitive to what the music needs at that moment. For this reason, the new album is a great chance to have the opportunity to hear his own original music with the spotlight fully on him.
PH(R)ASE feels like a self-exploration, meditative and conscious, where nothing is black and white but a thousand shades may be found therein.
PH(R)ASE is like a sketchbook – each page you turn reveals a series of new ideas, created from many separate lines which join to convey more than an image but also a mood, or movement, or moment. The album comprises 10 tracks of purely instrumental, original tunes, generally arranged into sets of two. Clear melodies are decorated with solid ornaments and woven through subtle shifts in harmony and clever rhythmic details. The more you listen, the more these details reveal themselves. PH(R)ASE feels like a self-exploration, meditative and conscious, where nothing is black and white but a thousand shades may be found therein. And, if you are anything like me, a new track will take your fancy with every listen.
An early favourite for me was ‘School of Brock/Open at Home’, full of youthful adventure. Something about the rich harmony feels autumnal to me, the tune reminding me of childhood laughs, attempting to catch leaves as they fell from trees above. The track feels settled and joyful, on a recognisable path, until suddenly a startling key change hits – one of the most rousing party key changes I’ve ever heard (Bb major into B minor… who does that?), and we’re launched into this fiery tune with punchy rhythmic backing and mind-blowingly neat ornaments. Then, just when you feel the tune is pulling into the station, there’s this wicked, cheeky linking phrase… and we’re thrown into another round. It makes me want to headbang as though I’m a full-blown metalhead, or throw my arms out wildly like I’m in some secret underground rave. I am a big fan.
The relationships between the tunes in these sets are deeply considered throughout. Some, like ‘School of Brock/Open at Home’, have this strong contrast that allows them to lean back-to-back onto each other. Similarly, ‘Kingston Spire’ feels airy, spacious, neat and happy, and sort of easy-going day with blue skies and just a few perfect clouds, while ‘Inside the Wires’, the tune that follows, sees a mood shift changing the landscape visible through the music. (Incidentally, the turnaround phrase bringing ‘Inside the Wires’ back to the A part is one of the most celebratory phrases of tune I’ve ever come across – it is pure joy).
In other sets, the tune change contains a feeling of evolution, like ‘Character of Mind/For Karin’. Here, the first tune feels calm, and peaceful – white sandy beaches and clear blue waters – perhaps celebrating a moment of luck. The second tune follows with a feeling of moving forwards with a confident certainty of self. The two together feel like a sneak peek into a chapter of somebody’s life.
I feel as though I can taste this music.
Halfway through the album lies the pièce de résistance. ‘A Romantic Image/Deepen or Dissolve’ is like nothing I’ve ever heard before. The first tune is all-encompassing, overtaking your senses – I feel as though I can taste this music. It is crafted so carefully – so delicate, so exquisite – the way one might feel about holding a rare butterfly’s wing. The free time feel gives ‘A Romantic Image’ a more abstract sound, leaving ‘Deepen or Dissolve’ to pull the set into a more settled waltz time. Then, the B part of ‘Deepen or Dissolve’ contains the saddest phrase of music on the album – a deep, authentic and genuine sadness that is utterly beautiful to behold. This music is completely sincere in its honest emotion, and I love it for that.
The groovy tune set, ‘Searching for Space/Cecil’s Dream’, opens the album by bringing you to wander around the medieval cobbled streets of a mystery novel, seeking your destination and yet taking a hundred wrong turns along the way. ‘Cecil’s Dream’ is quiet yet commanding, full of tricky emotions, yet with an underlying flame of quiet hope. The tune feels certain – if ‘Searching for Space’ took us on wrong turns, ‘Cecil’s Dream’ finds us the path we were searching for.
This album contains a soundtrack for every moment – from the quiet contemplation of ‘The Pace of Everyone’, to the velvety richness of ‘Odi & Nancy’, and the winding questions of ‘Who Owns This Land/The Entomologist’. For those of you on the hunt for an album to really dig into and to leave in the car for the next few road trips, PH(R)ASE is the album for you. Equally, for those of you keen to hear the melodeon in all its glory, PH(R)ASE has you covered there, too. You’ll have to believe me when I say that I haven’t been able to mention anywhere near all of my favourite parts from this album, so there are plenty more waiting for you to find. And who knows, maybe by the time you’ve unearthed all your favourite gems from PH(R)ASE, Archie’s next recording to transform box-playing will be well underway.
PH(R)ASE is released on January 13th, 2023, via Slow Worm Records. It can be ordered from the artist’s Bandcamp page.