Lost Harbours were formed in 2007 out of suburban ennui and the Southend on Sea DIY scene. They meld folk themes with the abstract possibilities of noise in an attempt to create an escapist moment - a living dream to dwell within momentarily.
Since this genesis there have been frequent forays to stages across the UK and Europe, their sound has travelled from Finland, through the Baltic’s to Poland and Germany. Along the way this odyssey has allowed them to share stages with Mirrorring (Grouper / Tiny Vipers), Boduf Songs, Jessica Bailiff, the Dead Rat Orchestra, The Owl Service, Kemper Norton and Library Tapes.
Two full albums and many EP’s have been recorded and disseminated in a variety of formats. These have received plaudits from the likes of The Quietus, Julian Cope, The Liminal, Norman Records, Foxy Digitalis, Heathen Harvest, Evening of Light and Gloom Folk.
They have sound-tracked the documentary Lead / Light, the poetry piece: Public Record: Estuary - the work of writer Justin Hopper which was commissioned especially for the Shorelines 2013 festival by Rachel Lichtenstein and improvised live soundtracks for screenings of several Kenneth Anger films.
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Joseph Burnett (The Quietus)
“Aside from being perhaps the best album released in 2012, Southend duo Lost Harbours' Hymns & Ghosts was also perfectly titled. Despite ostensibly being a folk album drawing from the rich British tradition of the late sixties and early seventies, the presence of droning violins and hushed, spectral vocals lent a deeply unsettling atmosphere to the album's six tracks, one that felt both heretically devotional and eerily phantasmagorical. It was a stirring and confident "full" debut, at times echoing Comus and Natural Snow Buildings, but somehow existing in a world of its own primordial making.
Hymns & Ghosts should have been a tough act to follow, but the aptly-named (for folkies) Richard Thompson (vocals, guitar, noises) and his violin and reeds wielding cohort Emma Reed have surpassed themselves with Into The Failing Light. This album takes the foundations laid by its predecessor, then upends them before spiralling off into a new direction.”
“I’ve lately been entranced by the stately folk and ambient imbalance of HYMNS & GHOSTS by Southend-on-Sea duo Lost Harbours, who alternately set up vast hillsides of heathen chorales and natural rushing wind followed by dextrous flute and guitar pieces, or Matt Baldwin-style instrumentals backed only by short wave radio and Peter Hammill-alike vocals. Alienating but compelling, HYMNS & GHOSTS takes place in a large glass-roofed museum during rainy hot weather, and projects such an insular worldview that listeners feel ejected from its cocoon at disc’s end. Released on Liminal Noise Tapes, Lost Harbours might even yield a larger listening audience were they to separate the overblown experiments from the pert guitar achievements. Their real charm, however, is precisely this highly unlikely and surprisingly necessary combination.”
Matt Royal (Level 4)
“Anyone who’s seen Lost Harbours live will know they are wilfully uncompromising. They have touches of early Genesis, with the use of flute, and the application of costumes adding a Peter Gabriel-esque theatrical flare, but filtered through a sort of minimalist-era Brian Eno vibe, although the folk of John Martyn and the like isn’t a million miles away.
Hearing them on record is a slightly different experience; quite a forboding one, if Leaf Decay is anything to go by. Opener Entropy sets the tone for what is to come, with its use of found sounds that are quite hard to define, and acoustic guitar flourishes. The songs never quite blossom, which can be a bit frustrating, but that’s probably the point. They’re trying to create an immersive world here, one to lose yourself in time and space, but one made on their own terms.
When it comes to reference points, aside from the ones mentioned, a cursory look at their blog see names like Nico and Philip Glass mentioned, which seems fair enough. Interestingly they recently completed a Baltic tour, a setting which I imagine would have suited their sound rather nicely.
Time will tell what potential Lost Harbours have yet to tap, but Leaf Decay is an interesting manifesto. It’s hard to imagine this reaching a particularly large audience, but you can also envisage them, like most bands this uncompromising, building a rather devoted following.”
“The air of religious fervour which resonates quite violently through part one of Hymns & Ghosts‘ stirring title track is felt more subtly throughout the remainder of the album, but it is ever present. Out of the opener’s pained yells grow more reverent vocal tones, solemnly hovering above cleanly plucked strings. When it’s decipherable there’s a passing resemblance to Beirut’s Zach Condon in singer Richard Thompson’s quavered lilt, but quite often the vocals are incorporated as monastic drones, allowed to drift like dust specks through broken shards of stained glass.
The album’s cover shows ‘The Kiss Of Death’ — a haunting Spanish sculpture most often accredited to Jaume Barba — and the atmosphere throughout is fittingly chilly. At its darkest Hymns & Ghosts approaches Burial Hex bleakness; the two lengthy title tracks that book-end the album cast dark shadows across what they contain and any chinks of light that creep through will do well to make it out of either side alive.
Even the relative brightness of guitar and flute pieces like ‘Morning Song’ — whose double-edged title is surely intentional — hum with Gothic chamber gloom. Elsewhere, in a rare concession to the modern world, ‘Sister’ is undercut by mangled radio static.
The screams that let fly as the Hymns & Ghosts pt. 1 reaches its most hellish nadir could come direct from some rank Inquisition cellar as church bells strike up in the distance to celebrate another heretic soul flayed clean. Pt. 2never quite stokes the same hell fire, but its descent into shearing metal noise at the end brings it dangerously close. Swinging side-to-side it’s the aural equivalent of Poe’s pendulum and you’re the one down in the pit.”
O.S. (Evening of Light)
“Hello Lost Harbours, and welcome to that cadre of experimental folk artists that everyone worth his salt should check out. This isn’t technically the debut album by the duo Richard Thompson and Emma Reed, but it is the first one released on CD in a larger run.
The setup of the album is challenging for the song-loving folkies. The listener is immediately treated to a twelve-minute droning chant piece, full of misty synth waves, voices, church bells, and the like. A lovely drifting work that places Hymns & Ghosts firmly on the otherworldly side of folk music.
The four following tracks are more open and give way to Richard’s guitar and voice, and Emma’s woodwinds. “Spring’s Fire” is still rather ghostly and ethereal, but for the two central tracks, everyone hushes. “Portent” is a stunning piece starting with delicate fingerpicked guitar, melancholy and dark. After its more intense climax, the it flows seamlessly in the sparse notes and almost whispered vocals of “Sister”.
The longer “Morning Song” includes some brighter notes, but it has its darker touches too, and ample room for swirls of guitar and flute as well as calmer pieces. The album ends with the second part of the ghostly title track, another extended improvised piece, but this time with an organ base, guitar, percussion, and more layered vocals, some by Bobbie Watson of Comus.
Hymns & Ghosts is an excellent album, loosely put together and giving itself free reins all the time. This results in a delightful fix of song-like parts, interludes, improvisations, and drones in a combination that makes this style of folk so appealing. I’m sure it will delight many of our readers and listeners, and I urge you to pick up this album, professionally self-released in a lovely six-panel sleeve.”
Ian Holloway (Quietworld / Wonderful Wooden Reasons)
“Lost Harbours first came to my attention a couple of years ago with their Hymns and Ghosts album. It was a very nice slice of dronelicious dark-ambient folkery which the duo - Richard Thompson: guitar, vocals, bowed guitar, piano, samples and electronics & Emma Reed: flute, clarinet and violin - continue to develop on this new album.
The dark, brooding, building intensity and power of the opening of 'Into the Failing Light' belies the fragile cracked beauty of the music that lies at it's heart. It moves from what feels like a Coil-esque ritualistic gathering of energy, a summoning into an achingly poignant and beautiful lament for the lost day that equally takes comfort in the coming embrace of the dark. It's does all this in ways that are never twee, never expected and always delightful. It is, quite simply, a beautiful piece of work.”
Sage (Heathen Harvest)
“Lost Harbours are a unique psych folk band out of the Southend-on-Sea area of Essex, England, whom have brought to the table a unique mixture of elements that create a haunting and surreal experience for the listener that is at times almost overwhelming. This project comprises of the duo of Richard Thompson and Emma Reed, and, at least for “Hymns & Ghosts”, they were joined by the vocal expertise of Ms. Bobbie Watson of Comus fame for the closing track, “Hymns & Ghosts Pt. II”, though I don’t necessarily feel that she added a great deal to the song overall. Until now, and even still in some regards, Lost Harbours have remained under the radar to lovers of anything dark folk related despite their affinity for playing out live and creating quality sea-side ghost folk. Their expressiveness is the heart of their music, and for that reason, they remain in a very delicate corner of the folk ambient world that contains only a very few notable artists for me, for when I listen to their music, few psych folk or even neofolk artists come to mind outside of the likes of Harvest Rain, Espers, and perhaps moments of Mike Bruno. Rather, one very specific name comes to mind as being so eerily similar in sound to Lost Harbours': Tor Lundvall.
It goes without saying that a comparison to Mister Lundvall isn’t taken lightly around here, but his haunted aural landscapes and accompanying paintings are the only sound and imagery that can honestly be compared to the tone that the opening track, “Hymns & Ghosts Pt. I”, sets for the album. Somber Gregorian Chant vocal melodies accompany a rolling fog that is envisioned through locally captured field recordings of distant Earthly rumbles and an array of clanging port bells. These natural elements are layered underneath by ethereal, drifting ambient that lulls in the gentle laps of purling ocean waves under the fog with only the uneasy off-kilter tones of a clarinet to sever the unearthly trance of their bleakly-crafted dreamworld. This is, of course, only one face of the project, as impressive as it is on its own. Inverted to their other side, the dreariness stays but through a gentle acoustic folk that is accompanied by word-bearing forlorn vocals and a spirited flute accompaniment. But even in these moments of seemingly ashen remorse, there is a sense of conviction to Thompson’s voice; conviction that is paired with the sincere emotion of his minimalist guitar approach to create a sound that is both heart-wrenching and modestly celebratory in almost post-punk fashion on tracks like “Portent”. Even through all of this though, those opening ambient ties linger, almost unnoticeable, through the heart of every song. Still, more pours out through the project’s distinct style of minimalist folk, with tracks like “Sister” reflecting past images of the tortured face of David Eugene Edwards in his emotionally charged performances and even the Street Spirit-style melancholia ofThom Yorke, though the latter reference could simply be a matter of gentle British vocal comparisons.
Outside of the music, though vocal elements seem to be of a lesser concern, the project lists literary influences ranging from the likes of William Blake (perhaps tied to the somber atmosphere of Lost Harbours’ music in regards to his despair in the face of attempting and seemingly failing in tragic manner to illuminate the loving face of God in his own life, finding anger in its place which manifest in places such as the Book of Urizen until he finally displayed a level of peace on the subject with The Four Zaos), Gabriel Garcia Márquez (author of One Hundred Years of Solitude), and Jorge Luis Borges(whom perhaps is most responsible for the level of surrealism in this work.) Whatever the case, what was lent to these artists through the writing of these three literary giants can be quite literally heard in the spirit of the album as one drifts through each track, chained to a very specific mood until the music ceases and the chains loosen.”
Agata Pyzik (Wire magazine)
“Southend-on-Sea duo Lost Harbours offer possibly the best set of the evening: unassuming, touching and lacking in posture. Their line-up of flute and amplified acoustic guitar reminds me of music from Soviet-era children’s TV programmes, where delicate, interlocking tunes underscored educational content. The duo’s use of sound effects follows a similar pattern: they mix concrete sounds with electronic drones in a playful imaginative way that also brings to mind BBC TV’s children’s programmes such as The Clangers. Lost Harbours nail perfectly the sense of mystery of that imaginary world populated by serene creatures from space.”
Joseph Burnett (The Liminal)
“The sounds of horror, as in both the emotion and the cinema genre, have been trickling into contemporary and even pop music for decades now. Neil Young’s Tonight’s the Night was once cited as being the first “horror album” (a dubious claim, given the glee with which Young and his tequila-sloshed cohorts made it), a title that could easily have been attached to Lou Reed’s Berlin. More recently, techno, drone and electronic artists, from Demdike Stare to Nate Young, have turned to the sinister atmospherics of vintage John Carpenter films for inspiration, whilst the obsession of noise with brutal violence and gore continues unabated and Black Metal doggedly expands on the corpse paint-coated ethos of its sinister early days. It seems horror is fertile ground for a wide range of artists and musicians, and, as someone who lapped up every second of Texas Chainsaw Massacre, Psycho and Rec, I welcome it with unabashed, albeit grim, joy.
Southend-on-Sea-based duo Lost Harbours look further back and across a wider field than most, plumbing the sort of primordial depths that has rightly garnered them a positive write-up by the Archdrude himself, Julian Cope. The core of Hymns & Ghosts (the title kind of speaks for itself) is an atmospheric form of acoustic folk, one clearly indebted to the “Pagan” traditions of the British and Irish isles. Shades of Simon Finn, Nick Drake and Bill Fay can be found in the elegant-yet-taught acoustic guitar melodies, whether they involve delicate finger-picking or driving, minimalist and hard-edged riffage, as on the visceral ‘Portent’, whilst the seventies feel of the music is encapsulated in well-placed flute flourishes from Emma Reed. As with Finn, Richard Thompson’s vocals are often dramatic, albeit with a more fervent and suppressed mantra-like quality, especially on ‘Spring’s Fire’, where the vocals resemble a choir-like chant. Sometimes, these dark, wispy tones are rather awkwardly set aside in favour of straight-ahead pastorality, notably on the insubstantial ‘Sister’, but for the most part, this feels like folk music taken out of time, instantly (and viscerally) familiar, but with a potency that stretches beyond the confines of musical history and imagination.
Of course, when it comes to dark folk from these isles, it’s impossible not to mention Comus, a clear influence on Lost Harbours, to the point that their vocalist Bobbie Watson appears on the closing track, adding elemental grace to proceedings with her trademark soaring vocalisations. On ‘Portent’, Thompson edges close to the possessed angst of Comus’ Roger Wootton in his vocal style, but, equally, across the eight-minute “Morning Song”, the duo stretch out and traverse a lot of territories, from the English wispiness of Comus classic ‘The Herald’ to Fahey-esque Appalachian folk. Far from being an Anglo-Irish curiosity, Lost Harbours’ mood-based beauty has a universality of space as well as time, and is perhaps closer to the Midwestern noise scene of Failing Lights, Demons and Nate Young than would appear at first listen.
The web that draws all these subtly disparate strands together is Popol Vuh, specifically Florian Fricke’s essential scores for Werner Herzog’sAguirre and Nosferatu and the pan-religious folk of Hosianna Mantra, the influence of the latter bubbling under the surface of the aforementioned folky tracks in the album’s middle section. But Hymns & Ghosts’ ragged, expansive beauty owes everything to the two versions of the title track that bookend the album (hey, we’re back at Tonight’s the Night). Lengthy, untethered and traversed by unsettling beauty, these two pieces centre around extended, slow-paced chants that drift over a dense tapestry of constrained drone and haunting sound effects. Both ‘Hymns and Ghosts’ possess much of the hypnotic unease of Popol Vuh’s ‘Brüder des Schattens – Söhne des Lichts’, with a similar juxtaposition of grace (the vocals) and doom (just about everything else). When pealing bells pierce the ether on the first part, it’s as if a funeral march is parading under your window, Seventh Seal-style.
Meanwhile, as Watson and Thompson’s voices overlap on ‘Hymns and Ghosts part 2′, it’s as if noise veteran and singular vocalist Gary Mundy is sitting in on, well, a Popol Vuh session. Few albums released this year will carry such a stirring mix of becalmed elegance, dark malevolence and spacey ethereality.”