A Dancing Beggar | Follow The Dark As If It Were Light
Time: May 2011
Media: CD & Digital Download
Info: These seven songs are journeys rather than
standard arrangements of verses and choruses, as
James takes a more subtle approach to writing by
applying soft piano loops, field recordings and tender
vocals, presenting a more defined, restrained and
minimal motif throughout. Follow The Dark As If It Were
Light marks a change in direction for A Dancing
Beggar, focusing on a softer, more personal sound,
crafted out of homemade samples, ambient drones
and delicate piano melodies, and has been compared
to the likes of Sigur Ros and Grouper.
Artist site: http://www.adancingbeggar.com/
PDF Press Release: Download
|VIDEO | Album Promo
QUESTIONS | A Dancing Beggar
Who are you?
James aka A Dancing Beggar.
Why do you write music?
I like to write quiet, intricate music that could accompany
How do you describe your music?
Ambient and delicate.
What does this album mean to you?
It reminds me of autumn in the UK, driving through
country lanes, the sea, the countryside, stormy seas in
winter – these were all things that I was surrounded by
when I wrote the album. It wasn’t written specifically
for this but I guess all of these things go into the record.
Basically, I wrote the album in the hope that people can
listen to it and enjoy how ambient music can play with
Can you elaborate on your creative
I record samples, usually on a camera or my phone. I
play guitar over the audio depending on how the
samples make me feel. I can then build layers over this
and play with the track until it fits the images that are in
What are your future plans?
Releasing the new album in late Spring with some small
live dates along with this.
|REVIEWS | Follow The Dark As If It Were Light
As enigmatic titles go, “Follow The Dark As If It Were Light” is up there with the best. A Dancing Beggar is
Brighton based James Simmons and his latest release is a meditative collection of shimmering drones, yielding
piano loops, field recordings and whispered, ambient vocals. Decidedly rural, yet very modern, listening to this
delicate set isn’t unlike sitting in a field, absorbing the sounds of nature and life, yet effortlessly tuning into the
soporific buzz of overhead wires as they travel from pylon to pylon. A contemporary English landscape
idealized in sound.
A Dancing Beggar is the moniker of Brighton based artist James Simmons. Having released a six track EP - 'How
They Grow', full length LP 'What We Left Behind', as well as collaborations with Franz Kirmann and Codes in the
Cloud, Simmons now comes to Audiobulb.
'Follow the Dark as if it were Light' is what can be called a classic Post-Rock album, it has all the necessary
ingredients to be so; the prominence of a repeating guitar, the ever increasing tension brought about by the
rhythmic structure, even the name of the tracks and album. References such as Mogwai and Sigur Rós fit
perfectly. Simmons achieves a very interesting album, where he explores with sonic landscapes with a subtlety
and maturity. What is noticeable however, and certainly different from previous works, is the artist's focus on
classical drone and ambient stylings.
There is something about the first track 'Creeping into dusk' that instantly grabbed my attention with its haunted
voices and string section that submerges the listener completely. This song was sounding very familiar, at first I
thought it could be because it reminded me of Arvo Pärt’s work, but then I made the connection and finally came
to the conclusion that this song could be included in Gavin Bryars' 'Sinking of the Titanic' masterpiece. Indeed, I
would say Creeping into Dusk is the stand-out song of the album. 'Stars Bring Us Closer', 'There is Hope Here'
and 'Returning' feature warming bass lines like strong undercurrents, full of euphoria and slowly resolving
phrases. And this is where I think Follow the Dark as if it were Light adds up to a very interesting release. The
combination of the contemporary classical and ambient elements with the tradition of Post-Rock delivers subtle
treasures buried below the sonic guitar barriers, and this will, with added listenings provide a very pleasant
discovery of a world underneath the surface.
“Follow the Dark As If It Were Light” is the second full-length for James Simmons under the A Dancing Beggar
moniker. Across the seven songs that make up the album Simmons resists the verse chorus structure in
favour of what he calls ‘adventures’…
The album seems firmly rooted in the post-rock tradition, a tough genre to get right. But Simmons knows the
formula and has enough conviction in his songwriting to keep it fresh and relevant. And as far as evolution of
an artist goes, this one could be a contender for revelation of the year as Simmons shows growth in leaps
and bounds and delivers an album that lingers with the listener long after the music stops.
From note one of “Follow the Dark…” it’s clear that this is an album of nuance and texture. Often the songs
seem to move in layers; A layer may consist of, say, guitar and piano, rather than a single instrument. Each
layer seems to build on a particular melody. As a result, it’s as if each melody is a voice adding to a choir.
To talk about the album in terms of individual songs is near pointless as this is an album that will have you
listening from beginning to end each time you hit play. And in return what Simmons delivers is a moving album
where quality never waivers. Now, in fairness, the album does take a slight detour with “Empty Boats” which
doesn’t quite evolve the same way the other songs do. It has the most prominent vocal track on the album and
seems unsure whether it wants to be a traditional A-B pop-song or an instrumental post-rock composition. As
a result, what we get is something that’s stuck in between the two approaches and thus lacks direction. But
even that is not enough to slow the album down.
“Returning” and “Here Come the Wolves” are probably the best contenders for singles from the album as both
work as stand-alones but also serve well as microcosms of the album as a whole. Both songs are just note-
perfect and seem to know exactly when to evolve. And each evolution, each new layer, seems to add weight
to the emotional thrust of the songs.
“Follow the Dark As If It Were Light” wears its influences on its sleeve, particularly Sigur Ros and Epic45.
However, Simmons has a firm grasp of what he is trying to achieve with this album and has such a strong
sense of melody that he really does offer up something special here. As an artist Simmons has such a deep
well of great melodies to draw from; nonetheless, he deserves credit for being brave enough to invest so
many into each song. Presumably, the mastering work done by Ludovic Morin (Sigur Ros, Fleet Foxes) can’t be
underestimated in its contribution to the evolution of the artist’s sound. None of this is to write-off Simmons
previous work as A Dancing Beggar, but simply to acknowledge that the scope of his vision has expanded
greatly. Thankfully though, his work feels as deeply personal as ever.
The Sheffield-based Audiobulb Records label was formed in 2003 by David Newman as a home for
“exploratory electronic music.” The term is intentionally vague, which was a rather smart move on his part.
The variety of music the label has released over the years is fairly broad. All of the releases share one
important element however - which is the stamp of approval from Mr. Newman. That is no small thing when
one listens to a few of the albums he has released.
Follow The Dark As If It Were Light by A Dancing Beggar is a perfect example. A Dancing Beggar is the nom
de plume of the 23-year old James Simmons, and was released last May. Being a small, independent label
based in the U.K., Audiobulb’s recordings unfortunately do not get the type of attention here in the United
States that they so richly deserve. If I had heard this album when it was released, it would have made my
“Top 10 of 2011” list without question.
Follow The Dark As If It Were Light is actually the second full-length album from A Dancing Beggar. His first
was titled What We Left Behind. James Simmons has actually made the task of describing his music fairly
easy for me, as he himself refers to it as “ambient.“ When done right, ambient music is a form that I adore.
Sadly, too many critics (and artists) have used that term to a point of overkill. In the case of Follow The
Dark As If It Were Light though, we are presented with the very best of what ambient music has to offer.
The album is a seven-song, 52-minute experience in bliss. On each track, Mr. Simmons opens with a gentle
(yet intriguing) melody, and slowly expands it. Follow The Dark is almost purely instrumental, although
during “Empty Boats,” “Forget This Place,” and “Here Come The Wolves,“ we hear a blend of choir-like
voices which are mixed perfectly with the music at hand. The intent is clearly to add the human voice as
simply another element to the overall instrumental palette.
The very nature of the form of a record review is (quite obviously) using words to describe music. Yet
with an album like this, words and phrases are so inadequate that it is almost maddening. For this listener,
it is the combination of the various instruments, occasional voices, and overall texture which makes
ambient music so compelling. One of the keys to it all though is to never allow one aspect to overshadow
The effect is one of almost imperceptibly changing textures. Not falling into the (probably) overwhelming
temptation to emphasize one instrumental sound over another over the course of the piece seems to be
one of the most difficult obstacles for the musician to overcome.
Quite frankly, to pick a “favorite” out of the seven cuts on Follow The Dark is a nearly ludicrous idea. But
for the sake of illustration, I will single out the 9:47 “Returning” for special mention. A Dancing Beggar
uses all of the tools at his disposal during the course of this track, and it is one I would play for anyone
who ever wondered what it “is” exactly that makes ambient music so special to me.
The best ambient music is often described as taking the listener on a journey. Without question, that is the
effect Follow The Dark As If It Were Light had upon me. For fans of this type of music, I have not heard
anything as remarkably true to the form since the demise of the Silent Records label. I highly recommend
going to the Audiobulb site to check out more of this music. It is certainly one of the best record-label sites
I have seen, with a tremendous amount of information regarding not only A Dancing Beggar, but their other
artists as well.
For now though, let me just say that Follow The Dark As If It Were Light stands among the finest ambient
albums I have heard.
The project of 23-year-old Brighton musician, James Simmons, A Dancing Beggar's second album is a
paradigm of immersive, electronic pastoralism. Crafted from home-made samples, field recordings and soft
piano loops, it marries intimate Eno ambience with reverberant, Sigur Rose-like grandeur.
For my first official review in Headphone Commute’s new headquarters, I set up my gear, treated the room
with some books and some rugs, closed all doors, tunnels and mouths, and slipped into my meditative listening
place of pressure levels, frequencies, and vibrations. I used to believe in pure luck, in coincidence and in
serendipity. Now I just flow… I pick up my next album to review not because of this or that, but because I just
simply pick it up. In this spirit of unfolding events I arrive at a new album by A Dancing Beggar. Or so the story
Follow The Dark As If It Were Light is the sophomore release from James Simmons. Previously self-releasing
What We Left Behind (2009), the seven track followup lands on David Newman’s Audiobulb Records. Words
like “lush”, “ethereal”, and “atmospheric” bubble on the surface of my cranium, but instead they are subdued and
let to rest beyond these structures known as words. Genres like “ambient”, “shoegaze”, and “post-rock” want to
suffocate the listener’s perceptions, slot the album in a bin, and file under a plastic label, but instead they melt
away, and let the music simply stream, from Simmons’ consciousness to yours.
But if I had to classify the album, or rather add it to the playlist of my favorites, it would certainly play nicely along
with Hammock, Slow Dancing Society, The Ideal Setback, and Bitcrush. The tracks on the album (as does the
output from the artists mentioned above) approach each passage with a soft palette of acoustic loops, field
recordings and harmony rich soundscapes, often executed with the aid of a guitar, a few effects pedals, and
perhaps distant soaring vocal couplet. Crashing waves, epic synths and reverberated strings – each evoke a
feeling of euphoric bliss, a sun ray’s kiss, a late night summer breeze. Musical poetry in the making, unfolding on
the stage of life. And through these notes a deep and profound connection is made between a messenger and a
receiver. That is the power of music.
Sagacious beyond his age, 23-year old UK based elegiacally reflective composer, JAMES SIMMONS, follows his
lauded 2009 field-recording instrumental debut LP, ‘What We Left Behind’, with the equally indolent stimulating,
‘Follow The Dark As If It Were Light’.
Taking a more tranquil and yielding approach, Simmons (under the moniker of A Dancing Beggar) constructs a
diaphanous audio narrative, using understated deftly played piano, quivering electric guitar, and hallowed shifting
bass that both pours over and obscures any signs of standard song arrangements. There are also minimal displays
of vocals, kept to being drifting gesticulate waves of choral, hymn-like cooing and sighs: used more as an
evocative additional melody, then as a actual guide. An almost sacrosanct mood flows throughout these journey-
esque passages, which feature themes and subjects such as, the tragic poetic loss of lives at sea (‘Empty Boats’),
and inspired driving experiences through a memorable storm (‘Returning’).
Simmons ambient tomes recollect traces of Scott Walker – during his ‘Nite Flights’ period – and play a fleeting
homage to Brian Eno – especially his ‘Another Green World’ phase. There are also redolent touches on the album
of Sigur Ros’ senses-to-the-elements, moulding sonic-vistas signature soundscapes; though this, in part, is down
to the mixing and mastering duties of Ludovic Morin, whose credits include the Iceland group, and earthy acoustic
artists the Fleet Foxes and Beirut.
Fastidious in approach, the Dancing Beggars congruous musical impressions indicate a growing talent for
soundtracking movies that don’t yet exist.
The forest and the sea on the art cover are two landscapes that fit perfectly with the music of A Dancing Beggar
aka James Simmons, a UK-based artist who releases his second album after “What We Left Behind” LP and the
six-track EP “How They Grow”. “Follow the Dark As If It Were Light” display soundscapes made out of shimmering
guitars, field recordings, piano loops, soft vocals and drones. This is the structure for an ambient composition
which spreads a delicate atmosphere.
ZAP TOWN MAG
UK musician James Simmons follows up from his debut 2009 release with this ambient beauty. Follow The Dark As
If It Was Light constructs a soundscape of layered sounds and levels of depth and noise within. Even with all of
that said, there is something linear to this release.
With ambient constructions that are pleasing to listen to, it feels like not much differentiates between songs. Seven
songs in the fold, it might as well be one epic song that features the hums and purrs of the machine. But then you
are caught between a rock and a hard place. Do you risk scaring off listeners with one “Odyssey” or do you risk
what you have now and downplay the album with a degree of repetition. Simmons probably made the right choice
of not going with 1970s Tangerine Dream construct and releasing two or three songs like on Rubycon or Phaedra.
But overall if you can get past the sudden ending of songs, the long pauses in between and the electronics and
effects folding in on itself and look at the album like you look at Harold Budd’s more distinct musical thoughts, then
you will find more enjoyment out of this release.
The dusk creeps in to A Dancing Beggar´s sophomore album like the rising sun awakes the world in Edvard
Greig´s ”Morgonstimmung” from ”Peer Gynt” - with magnificence. A entire landscape stretches itself one last time
before settling into its night time rest. It is very moving to hear and overpoweringly beautiful.
James Simmons embeds his softly but distinctly strummed guitar and a little piano in ambient loops and field
recordings, all of which has been mixed by Ludovic Morin, the man who helps Sigur Rós sound like they do.
Which is a lot like A Dancing Beggar, especially in the swell of wordless, androgynous vocals.
”Stars Bring Us Closer” swells beyond the breatheable atmosphere before the magnetic beauty of the planet
pulls Simmons down to earth to play the ruminative piano and guitar duet of ”There is Hope Here”. ”Returning”
adds what may have regarded as some much needed dissonance to the otherwise beatific aspect of his album,
but it sounds malplaced and frankly monotonous. In fact, ”Returning” is something of a turning point for Follow the
Dark As If It Were Light, as in downhill – the remainder of the album is hard pressed to match the evocative
richness of the first four tracks.
Simmons is a young, talented artist still searching for his definitive muse. With the backing of fine labels like
Audiobulb - the album art is stunning - and the warm reception the critics have already given him, it shouldn´t take
long for him to find her.
WHISPERIN & HOLLERIN
This is a record had me reaching for my Thesaurus to look up synonyms for the word 'shimmering'. I found
'glimmery'; 'glistening' and 'glowing' which would also fit as alternative words to describe the luminous effect
of the album's drone based ambience. Anyone who reveres the music of artists such as Grouper, Stars of
the Lid and Ólafur Arnalds will know the everywhere and nowhere place these sounds come from.
A Dancing Beggar is the solo project of UK based James Simmons who uses homemade samples, wordless
vocals and treated guitar or piano but who allows none of these sounds to dominate.
The record was mixed and mastered at the Sound Dept. London by Ludovic Morin whose track record includes
work with artists like Beirut, Fleet Foxes and Sigur Rós.
The album title suggests an affirmative 'feel the fear but do it anyway' message perhaps mindful of the fact that,
all too often, these kinds of meandering instrumentals unjustly dismissed as melancholic downers. The title of
one of the tracks - There Is Hope Here - supports this theory.
Simmons' previous releases, an EP How They Grow and an LP What We Left Behind, featured more traditional
guitar or piano based pieces. 'Follow the Dark' album takes a more ambitious course in that it contains longer,
more abstract tunes.
There is no obvious unifying themes. The front and back covers respectively present photographs of an
anonymous country scene and a stretch of stony beach. Both locations could be anywhere and they are the
type of snapshots most would be tempted to discard as containing nothing of interest. You could perhaps read
into this that beauty is always a relative concept and that the significance of places is equally personal.
We are told that the track 'Empty Boats' is dedicated to sailors who have lost their lives at sea and that
'Returning' was inspired by an experience of driving home during a storm but this information hardly seems
crucial to the enjoyment of the music. Instead, the calm, abstract drift of the seven tracks takes you on a sonic
journey where the destination seems a secondary consideration.
The result is frequently magical and constantly shimmering.
With a rather un-dramatic poise, this second album from A Dancing Beggar offers a shifting pattern of tranquility
that produces both a calming and sophisticated landscape – indefinitely mapped out and driven exclusively from an
undercurrent of well thought out arrangements – hitting on sensitive touches, and compelling attention to detail.
A name set to offer up a certain amount of intrigue, A Dancing Beggar is in fact the brainchild of a young UK based
musician named James Simmons. This particular album has the added expertise of Ludovic Morin (Sigur Ros, Fleet
Foxes, Beirut) who is credited with the mixing and mastering of the final product. The album is fittingly titled Follow
Dark as if it were light quite apt for a body of work that takes a strong lead in edging towards a gentle heart
Branded as ‘journeys rather than standard arrangements of verses and choruses,’ the mood remains serene
throughout, deep and reflective, utilising the intensity drawn from expanding towards field recordings, piano loops
and touching vocals. “Creeping into Dusk” is ever so dainty in character with a quest to exaggerate its darkened
landscape – a forest of tranquil movements.
Gentle piano notes graciously touch upon “Empty Boats,” almost as if it were gentle reflections and stirrings within
the still waters itself, distant vocal colour infused with a mystic passion and a penchant for wisdom and guidance.
“Stars Bring Us Closer” opens out like a flower awakening during spring. With plenty of colour, there’s a closeness
and strong intimacy that is evident within the gentle music – blends of emotive strings, the distant like callings – all
of which leads to a more substantial layering of subtle sounds, working in a splendid way as an effective
combination of such delicate emotion. It stands as one of the strongest tracks on the album. With reverb and
darkened piano painted in such a way, the next track, “There is Hope Here,” offers up a distinct spellbound
ambience. In contrast, “Returning” presents a more distorted feel – affected, with distant echo’s to give the track
its illusion of distance. “Forget This Place” runs to similar themes of the previous tracks, with the added feature of
vocal works that whisper some magic upon its fabric. “Here Come the Wolves” is the most effective track by far,
giving us a nice building of organ like sounds accompanied by an emotive cello and succeeding to deliver the more
darker tones, complemented by sacred placement of piano and a brief distant beat lost over a hill side. A beautiful
vocal driven melody emerges later in the track along side the piano – now developed further.
The pace throughout does remain very unvaried – being too similar in places, utilizing only a small margin of sounds
and effects. There’s no unexpected drama here, or massive crescendos, and in places it can be slow on the
uptake. There’s also a lack of beat magic. What does have an elegant feel is the occasional use of very distant &
carefully crafted piano, but then it would seem this album is mainly about soaking up those peaceful moments.
Behind the oddly named A Dancing Beggar is one twenty-three year old James Simmons. I never heard of him,
and despite his young age, this is already his second full length album. From what I gather from the information,
he comes from the post-rock background: this album is mixed and mastered by Ludovic Morin, who worked for
Sigur Ros, Fleet Foxes and Beirut and Simons already played live alongside Stuart Braithwaite (Mogwai) and
Epic45. Guitars are also a primary interest, it seems, for Simmons. He recorded his album at home, surrounding
by a bunch of effect pedals/stomp boxes, his guitar, but also a bit of piano, field recordings and even vocals. In
this opening ‘Creeping Into Dusk’, the listener is transported back to the shoegazedaze, staring downwards
while Simmons mumbles his lyrics. It kind of sets the tone for the album. The seven lengthy pieces are all of
similar introspective layered guitars, bits of piano and lots of the chorus pedal. Shoegazing meets ambient meets
post rock. I thought it was a pretty fine album, although perhaps the musical genre is not entirely my cup of tea.
Its just occasionally listening to Sigur Ros or Mogwai: always nice, but never for too long. That can be said of
Simmons work too. These forty some minutes are quite nice, but then the inward staring is already enough. I am
not too familiar with all the ins and outs of this kind of music to judge if A Dancing Beggar is the most original
voice in this corner of the music world, but I must say it all sounds pretty good.
Sometimes music that doesn’t adhere to a pop structure can be surprising in it’s own movements, creating in
itself a loose skeleton in which to support unguided passages. Others rely on their use of melody and tones to
create a sense of distinction between section. Then there’s others who simply drift and sprawl, paying little
attention to boundaries of any sort. UK native James Simmons errs to the latter on this his sophomore release,
offering up 7 gentle ambient based compositions which either head here nor there, loosely floating as if by their
‘Creeping Into Dusk’ does indeed, as the name suggests, creep in, and gently casts the album adrift across its
expanse. From here, much of the album continues as it begins; soft, floaty, and at times in need of direction.
Ghostly vocals float in and out on ‘Empty Boats’, seemingly a sirens’ call adrift the oceans breeze. Wisps of
cymbal rolls quietly hiss, almost like the piece itself is slowly breathing. Faint morse code bleeps away in the
distance. There’s a deft undercurrent at play throughout, both sonically and structurally. It owes more than a
little to Riceboy Sleeps/Sigur Ros (in their vocal-less moments) in terms of instrumentation, and also sonically
taking into account the album was mixed and mastered by Ludovic Morin (Sigur Ros, Fleet Foxes). Structure
wise, there are times when things get a little dull, as Simmons has a tendency to introduce most all melodic
ideas within the first 2 minutes of a piece and then lets it loop for another 5 minutes, without removing or
introducing any other components. That isn’t to say all is lost; the songs themselves sound beautiful, aided no
doubt by skillful hands in production. ‘There Is Hope Here’ sees a steady piano loop enshrouded by guitar
drones and loops, building up then deconstructing softly into itself. Sprawling bass tones carry much of the
weight on ‘Forget This Place’. Distorted wails of guitar echo through the space, but never threaten to come to
the forefront. Everything is combined in closer ‘Here Come The Wolves’, as whirling organ tones drone, piano
gently tinkers, and a soft guitar plucks through a transparent choir. Strangely, upon it’s completion, I felt
somehow curious, as if I’d missed something.
Follow the Dark…… is and interesting listen, neither too safe or too dangerous. Fans of Riceboy Sleeps and
the like will find plenty of joy here. Everything feels very comfortable. Therein lies the problem. It’s a little TOO
safe. However, as his work evolves and matures in the future, I’d like to see A Dancing Beggar push further
into the unknown, as this feels a bit too safe. From many of the sonic ideas he presents here, I feel he has
more to offer. Certainly one to watch.
You can tell a lot of things from the artwork of A dancing beggar‘s new album, Follow the dark as if it were
light. Even if it looks like a peaceful meadow, the absence of wildlife (or any other colours besides green)
gives it a slight sense of isolation.
Isolation eventually leads into melancholy and through 7 tracks, we get many a different shade of melancholy.
Ambient sequences with synths and playful piano notes full of longing with the odd guitar thrown in for extra
feeling are A dancing beggar’s modus operandi.
Some tracks even include sparse vocals, but they are processed and a little buried in the back, so they sound
more like the faraway lamentations of a thousand ghosts passing in the distance (‘Empty boats’). Instead of
rattling chains, it’s the sound of a rapidly picked guitar string that envelops those spectres, with a lonely morse
code S.O.S. adding to the haunting sounds.
But let’s not be a Gloomy Gus, as there are a few rays of happiness in all these flushes of wistfulness and
longing. ‘There is hope here’ feels very, very optimistic, like a long warm hug that makes you feel just right after
a horrible day has pulled its tricks on you.
Reverse echoes, reverberated guitars and a lot of banshee-like electronic sounds swarm us in a track as
innocent as ‘Returning’, a long journey that is like catching an old photograph of friends in days long gone and
letting the memories run like wild horses (over the hills). It’s simply amazing how the song builds layer upon layer,
warm as a duvet in a bitterly cold night, refreshing as a watering hole jump in a deadly hot summer night. It’s full
of longing, but optimistic. Optimistic would be the world to a lot of the tracks, yes.
The overall sound of the album is thick in layers upon layers, but never getting as thick as a wall of sound
approach that would be more on shoegaze territory. It’s a very noisy type of ambient music (kudos to ‘Stars bring
us closer’ -amazing track), with enough post-rock tricks to give it a personality. Check if you want something
optimistic but slightly sad and introspective.
Bij ons in het dorp heb je een bedelaar die altijd heel vies en heel lang achtereen uit z’n neus eet. Echt alsof er hele
boterhammen in geprakt zitten, want hij kauwt er flink op om vervolgens zijn hand op te houden. Als hij nou nog
zou dansen, maar nee. Goed, dit is vast het slechtste bruggetje ooit, maar hoe kom je als 21-jarige muzikant ook op
een projectnaam A Dancing Beggar? In 2009 debuteert James Simmons onder die naam met zijn in eigen beheer
uitgebrachte cd What We Left Behind, voorafgegaan en gevolgd door een ep. Overigens kan je op geen van allen
dansen. Wel brengt hij fraaie, broeierige ambientachtige postrock die tot stand komt met gitaargeluiden, elektronica
en veldopnames. Nu, twee jaar later, is er de opvolger Follow The Dark As If It Were Light, ditmaal uitgebracht op
Audiobulb. De productie is in handen van Ludovic Morin, die zijn diensten eerder al heeft verleend voor Indochine,
Sigur Rós, Beirut, Fleet Foxes en vele anderen. Dit komt het geluid van A Dancing Beggar behoorlijk ten goede. De
stukken klinken voller en de details komen beter uit de verf, zonder dat de basisingrediënten nu echt gewijzigd zijn.
James brengt dromerige, met veldopnames gelardeerde en bovenal droefgeestige klanklandschappen, variërend
van 5,5 tot 9,5 minuut, die voor het overgrote deel instrumentaal zijn. Sporadisch brengt hij op de achtergrond zijn
falsetzang ten gehore, die de muziek extra mysterieus maakt en wel aan Sigur Rós doet denken. Hij laat op subtiele
wijze in zijn ambientcomposities ook shoegaze, glitch, softnoise en postrock elementen doorschemeren. Voor de
rest is de melancholische muziek bitterzoet vol 4ad-sferen en van een filmische pracht. Denk daarbij aan een
intrigerende cocktail van Yellow6, Epic45, The Boats, Eluvium en Robin Guthrie. Het zou niets voor onze lokale
bedelaar zijn, want je hebt bepaald niet de neiging uit je neus te gaan eten. Nee, deze zinnenstrelende muziek is
veeleer het neusje van de zalm voor ambient fijnproevers.
This album sounds engrossed in the very sadness it wishes to escape from. There’s a sense of utopian fantasy
about James Simmons’ soundscapes – angelic glimmers of guitar and piano, arriving in the most gradual and
caressive of tidal surges – yet they constantly feel on the verge of dissolve, threatened by a melancholy that
riddles each with heavy nostalgia and heartbreak, arriving in the loops of melody that trap themselves in infinite
At times, Follow The Dark As If It Were Light bears an unmistakable resemblance to Eluvium’s Talk Amongst The
Trees – both build their pieces around the steady ascension and subsidence of gentle organic textures, and both
seem most appropriate for pensive evening walks along the coast. In fact, my main criticism of Eluvium’s work is
also applicable here: A Dancing Beggar’s choices of chord and harmony can often be too obvious, and
regardless of their emotional significance on the artist’s part, it’s difficult to become poignantly absorbed by chord
sequences that have already been wrung dry by countless artists previous.
The album’s first two pieces are the strongest of the lot. “Creeping Into Dusk” steadily introduces Simmons’ rich,
ambient trademark with the gentle glow of major key drone, while “Empty Boats” provokes an atmosphere that
slots perfectly into the desolation and neglect implied by its title – swaying woozily back and forth on gentle cymbal
wash, with mournful falsetto howling into infinite, sun-baked seas. Even gorgeous moments such as these are
tarnished with unavoidable comparisons to A Dancing Beggar’s multiple sound-alikes, but Follow The Dark As If It
Were Light is strong enough to place him above many of these contemporaries.
Audiobulb Is an exploratory music label designed to support the work of innovative artists.
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