After almost four years, Cobalt Chapel, the English duo formed by multi-instrumentalist Jarrod Gosling and Cecilia Fage on vocals, flute and clarinet, are back with “Orange Synthetic”.

The first, self-titled album showed an exuberant band mixing strong folk writing with rich, progressive arrangements and a spacious, psychedelic sound.

Nominally, the album to be released on 29 January 2021 would be the second album, but it should be noted that between the debut and this second work we find an episode at the same time curious and fascinating. It’s “Variants”, an album in which the duo decides to revise/remix nine tracks from their debut, dilating them and increasing the psychedelia level to 11. The result is a full blown trip, which surprisingly is perhaps even more fascinating than the eponymous debut.

But let’s come to “Orange Synthetic” which, as the band state, is an album strongly influenced by the area where the band live, Yorkshire, and which “is inspired by the humanity, anecdotes and folklore of the region, the creatures and legends of the dramatic landscape surrounding them”. The name in particular is linked to a singular incident that took place there about fifty years earlier. It was a jazz festival that, following the devastation brought by a storm, saw many of the spectators risk their lives, while the organiser was forced to wander the moors for days before being found. A singular story that, in moving from hopeful joy to moments of terror, seems to express effectively, according to Fage and Gosling, the feeling of the end of the world that is beginning to spread in our time.

Paradoxically, however, it is the duo’s sunniest album. The opening track, “In the Company”, is proof of this. It has a clear pop verve, a catchy refrain and a psychedelic ending.

The more marked melodicism of the song is not a flash in the pan, but rather one of the most marked characteristics of “Orange Synthetic”; the duo in fact puts aside the folk component and the prog elaborations of the debut in favour of a greater immediacy and an increase of gradation in the “Stereolab” scale. The trademarks that remain unchanged are the two pillars on which the band stands. First of all, Fage’s bewitching and soft vocals, often reinforced by choruses with a medieval and magical flavour, and secondly, Gosling’s vintage keyboards and assorted organs (he seems to have 19 of them!), which from time to time create atmospheres that are now gothic, now psychedelic, often capable of teleporting into the space-time of the Canterbury sound.

If this is the musical dough of which “Orange Synthetic” is made up, then there is also the glaze in which the album is drowned; I’m referring to that hauntological and spectral patina that, while playing on similar grounds to those of bands like Broadcast or like the bands of the Ghost Box universe (not least Beautify Junkyards of which we spoke recently), manages to sound very peculiar, thanks to the strong sonic identity that the duo undeniably exhibits.

The result is pop that looks vintage, yet modern at the same time. The hazy, impalpable sound blanket that envelops the duo’s songs creates an alienating, ambivalent effect. Cobalt Chapel’s music gives at the same time the impression of being close, but distant: suspended between the mirage of a band that emerged from an indefinite past and the band of the future imagined or dreamed by a boy of the 60s.

We’ve mentioned Broadcast, and it is the late Trish Keenan’s band that is the most direct reference for the undulating “The Sequel”, delightfully decorated with creaks, oblique melodies and Gosling’s retro harpsichord touch. With its fast-paced rhythm, Canterburian organ and repeated refrain, “Message to” sticks directly in the listener’s brain. Then it’s the turn of the surprising “A Father’s lament”, maybe the best track, or at least the most complete in its variegated complexity: a strange mix of polyphonic choirs with a folk flavour, blasts of horns, organ and synth swirls, but above all sudden and unusual beach boysian (those of “Pet Sounds”) interludes . “A dream within a dream” as Edgar Allan Poe would say.

The album continues with the hypnotic “Our Angel Polygon” and the mini trip with a free ending of “Cry A Spiral”. An oblique melody drawn by the organ introduces “It’s The end, the end”, which then evolves into a song with an almost tribal, imposing rhythm and an ever increasing lysergic rate up to the remarkable instrumental finale. The final triptych is textbook: first the enthralling psychedelic waltz of “Pretty Mire, Be My friend” and then the return of spectral folk and medieval polyphony in “E.B.”, a track that’s almost exclusively vocal.

The conclusion is the six-minute intricate and fascinating title track, which develops around a sinuous melody brushed by Cecilia Fage, imaginative breaks and Gosling’s instrumental interventions.

A truly noteworthy album that shows both continuity with the past and evolution of its own style; a band that does not lose an ounce of its ability to fascinate, while exhibiting a sound less tied to tradition and more substantially pop. So if 2021 is off to a good start, it is also thanks to Cobal Chapel and their Orange Synthetic.