Boomkat Product Review:
Driven by disenfranchised British boredom and a love of fringe music and art, Graham Lambkin and Darren Harris threw caution to the wind on their brilliantly ramshackle debut Shadow Ring album. Vapors of Jandek, Marc Bolan, Derek Bailey and Whitehouse coalesce to establish a narrative we're still untangling three decades later.
Before they settled on The Shadow Ring name, Lambkin and Harris had already channeled their DIY spirit into music as Footprint and the Cat & Bells Club, releasing a handful of cassettes in 1991 and 1992 when they were still teenagers. Recording direct to a home tape deck without overdubs in Lambkin's childhood bedroom (better known as S.H.P. Studios), they developed their own stream-of-consciousness take on rock music - instrumental skill wasn't a factor, it was pure expression. A year later they bashed together 'City Lights', grabbing any instruments they could find and accompanying impulsive guitar strums and surreal poems with random blasts of noise and obscure vocalisations and bashed percussion.
Based in sleepy Folkstone, an ailing resort town on the Kent waterfront, the duo were sparked into action by the cultural void that enveloped them; with nothing much in the way of entertainment, they retreated into an imaginative fantasy world soundtracked by the generation's popular outsiders: David Bowie, Marc Bolan, The Incredible String Band and Whitehouse. These early touchstones are all very present on 'City Lights', as long as you know what you're looking for. It's not a million miles from Jandek's early run of outsider plates, but where Sterling Smith had devolved blues and American folk into atonal shimmers, The Shadow Ring took their cues from the lineage of British eccentrics, slurring nonchalantly over raw fragments of folk, psychedelic rock and noise.
There's a level of freedom to this music that still sounds shockingly rare. The Shadow Ring were undoubtedly crucial to the development of many DIY avant-improv experiments that followed (think Volcano The Bear, Astral Social Club or even Helm) but their music is so distinct and impulsive that it still feels isolated and self-contained. Attempting to glue together proper songs using almost no equipment and with no formal musical training, Lambkin and Harris collapsed into a dreamworld - fantasising about structure, they ended up twisting elements together that would establish a new timeline, prologuing a chronicle that unfurled into established classics like 'Lighthouse' and 'Lindus' a few years later. And while 'City Lights' might be the band's most misunderstood and lesser-heard release, its embryonic energy is unsurpassed.
If yr in any way inspired by chaotic DIY noise, improvised free expression, sound poetry or jagged psychedelia, the output of The Shadow Ring really is the stuff of legend. Beginning with the slacker, low-slung chug of 'Double Standard' and the title track, the album eventually mutates into rollicking, serrated noise, peaking with 'Faithful Calls', a ruff gurgle of cheap, poorly played keyboard wails, a-rhythmic rattles and whooshing, scrubbed tape noise. It's a transmission from the deepest recesses of the British underground, and its aftershocks are still rumbling through our fave contemporary deployments. Miss at your peril.