For me, 2017 was the year of A Year In The Country having reviewed four of their lovingly packaged compilations for W&H. This is the fifth.
As with the previous releases, a description of the album's theme is best left to the shadowy figure(s?) that lie behind the record label, blog and soon to be published book. S/he/they state(s) that "All The Merry Year Round is an exploration of an alternative or otherly calendar that considers how traditional folklore and its tales now sit alongside and sometimes intertwine with cultural or media based folklore".
The uneasy, occasionally incongruous, blending of the old with the new informs the twelve musical "wanderings" and "cathode ray summonings". Indeed, this contrast is spelt out by the ghostly contribution of the artist know as A Year In The Country which is entitled Tradition And Modernity.
Is this folk or ambient? There are arguments to justify either label. I'll Bid My Heart Be Still by The Hare And The Moon, with vocals by Jo Lepine of The Owl Service, most obviously fits into the former category but this is the only track that could be convincingly called traditional folk.
There might even be a case to say that the delicate piano refrain and the churchy wordless female vocals of She Became Ashes And Left The Wind by Magpahi approaches contemporary classical.
Ultimately the atmosphere is more important than the genre name and in this regard the two adjectives that best convey my impressions are 'spooky' and 'spectral'.
The atonal synths of Azimuth Alignment Ritual by Field Lines Cartographer or In A Strange Stillness by Time Attendant seem to best fit the album's brief, as does Chetwynd Haze by The Séance (Pete Wiggs of Saint Etienne and James Papademetrie) which closes the album on a similarly haunted note.
It all makes for a coherent whole beginning with the opening track - Towards The Black Sun by United Bible Studies, the only other track on the album to feature a voice and words. In this, a man sombrely relates that he is "staring ahead at particle patterns in front of me" and his references to a decaying church and a dying black sun seem to stand as metaphors for a world that is wasting away.
This serves to confirm that, even though merriment is suggested by the album title, nothing else implies that the contributors find much to feel particularly joyful about.
A Year In The Country's website