Farm Hand: International Dreams – album review
International Dreams is the new solo album by Islet/Shape Records’ Mark Daman Thomas under the Farm Hand moniker. Simon Tucker reviews.
Geography is everything when it comes to International Dreams. Created in Pontvane, Radnorshire with producer Rob Jones (Sweet Baboo, Slow Club) on a working farm, the sense of expanse and the duality of feelings that that can create in a person is the very core of this album. Daman Thomas himself has stated that the album was recorded during lambing season and he would often go help birthing lambs when necessary. These moments can flip between the beauty of new life to disturbing sights and situations if things ever go wrong and International Dreams walks this tightrope between joy and unease with such style and grace you are often unaware of the change in tone until it’s got you in its grip.
For International Dreams, Daman Thomas has aligned himself with the eccentric and esoteric artists that have gone before him. Artists such as Kevin Ayers, Syd Barrett, David Tibet, and Coil have all tapped into the undercurrent that flows through the UK’s rural landscape and the twisted beauty and deep magik that resides within it in their work and with International Dreams Daman Thomas firmly places himself in that lineage.
International Dreams is a lucid dream of an album that is hard to grasp. It’s a Lynchian trip where the shadows of the hills create unsettling shadows, the battle of light versus dark. The vocals throughout are bathed in a lysergic energy that makes them almost indecipherable yet when the murky edges clear and the lyrics emerge they are more mantra like than straight verse structure. The repeated use of “precision / illusions” on Solution explain the ying/yang themes of the album. The pointed and real mixed with the mystical and false. On the title track itself it sounds like Daman Thomas is singing “all I wanted is international / all I need is international” never once finishing the sentence with the word dreams. This playfulness and resistance to what many would deem “classic” lyric writing fits the sonic world that surrounds it perfectly and helps this album elevate itself from standard psych-pop into a far more meaningful and beautiful creation.
A vital competent in the audio make-up of International Dreams is its balance between intense creativity and an almost childlike innocence. It is an album that at times sounds like newly discovered field recordings created centuries ago which have now been married to today’s technology. It marries nursery rhyme melodies with tribal percussion with album highlight Fall Into Flight being the finest example of this as it’s a deeply meditative piece that smashes together the divine with the drum machine.
International Dreams feels like an important album. One of those albums where you just get the feeling it will rise in stature over time. Its playfulness and humour blend wonderfully with its more sinister aspects and thanks to its relatively brief running time it is an album that never outstays its welcome giving the listener a firm desire to flip over and start again.
International Dreams is an album designed for a long period of exploration. It may not reveal all its secrets instantly but as you delve further into it with repeated listens you will gain a sense of not only an album that stands tall amongst others released this year but one that sits proudly at the table with those ground-breakers whose minds saw things differently to our own and who were not afraid to reveal the darkness that resides in our beautiful landscapes.