Mark Pearson of Rare Bird Alert reviews The Beauty of The Sound Approach
August 29th, 2017

The latest release from The Sound Approach team is perhaps the one most befitting of that description, being a satisfyingly hefty slab of vinyl that nestles comfortably between Sonic Youth and Sparks in the collection. Incorporating two of my passions in a lavishly-produced gatefold long player was always going to be promising combination, and the iconic cover – an essential component of any fine record – hits the spot immediately, with Killian Mullarney’s Hoopoe-lark descending (a subtle shout out to Vaughan Williams, perhaps) a beautiful and enticing visual gateway into the recordings, which appropriately begin with this desert-dweller’s deceptively simplistic, milkman-tuning-up style whistle.

From there, it slowly becomes clear that the choices, and more pertinently their order on the record, are far from random, and there is an ebb and flow to the track listing that again befits the format (a great album is never just a collection of great songs, of course); by track four, for example – the plaintive but uplifting repetition of a singing Yellow-breasted Bunting (recorded in Yakutia, Russia in spring 2004) – there is more for the ear to ‘focus’ on, with a variety of backing singers and even a tight, Clem Burke-esque drummer (in the form of a Common Snipe) framing the lead.

Singling out favourite ‘tracks’ is nigh-on impossible (and completely subjective of course), but the waders in particular seem to come alive from the turntable – Marsh Sandpiper being an instant hit, and Bristle-thighed Curlew very much a grower…. but whatever zen-like state is potentially induced by the latter is soon jolted by the comedy mania of Black Grouse lekking – at over five minutes in length, this is very much the Bohemian Rhapsody of side one (if you consider Inverness-shire bohemian, that is). Side one’s penultimate track, meanwhile, is particularly evocative of a time and place – 0219hrs on a late spring morning in Southern Finland, to be precise – with a European Nightjar churring mechanically in the foreground supported by begging Eurasian Eagle Owl chicks and a Song Thrush ushering in the daylight.

More lavish art and photography accompany the pull-out sleeve notes, which offer a concise and scene-setting commentary to each track – and not just to those that appear on the actual record, but to many more which are included in a bonus USB tucked away in the corner of the booklet (extra points for Easter eggs there, chaps). Again, isolating favourites would take much longer than we have here, but try the Red-rumped Wheatear in Morocco, succinctly described in the notes as ‘a whistling kettle on a low flame that someone forgot to extinguish’. The USB contains more besides, including a potted history and biography of the Sound Approach and the team involved, and interviews providing more background to some of the tracks, ably conducted by Charlie Moores – well worth a listen after soaking up the songs themselves for extra context.

Is it an essential new product that any self-respecting birder can’t live without? Does it shed new light on its subjects or break ID barriers? For the most part, probably not. But that’s resolutely not the point here. It’s clearly a very carefully crafted and admirably executed labour of love from a team who have consistently set the standard in their field, have done so again with this treasure of a record, and who will no doubt continue to do so. Sound Approach completists will justifiably soak it up like a long, lush soak in the tub, but it’s not just for the nerds among us – if a combination of stylish design and craftsmanship, the unarguably superior audio experience of quality vinyl through good speakers (or, better still, headphones) and a treasure trove of the most evocative and entrancing array of bird songs appeals, then this record is very likely for you.

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Mark Pearson, Rare Bird Alert 29/08/17