• Co-Pilgrim
  • A Fairer Sea
  • Battle Worldwide

OXFORD music-lovers are no strangers to Co-Pilgrim.
The Americana ensemble brought together by former Black Nielson frontman Mike Gale have built up a following through luscious sets here in the city and at Truck Festival. Indeed the festival’s co-founder Joe Bennett features in the line-up - which, in our book, gives them fair claim to be a local band.
However, like Bennett’s own band Dreaming Spires, Gale manages to transcend geographical boundaries with an expansive album of wide-skied alt-country which feels more at home among the arid desert horizons of the American West than the soft lowlands of Southern England.
It also transcends time; its warm, sun-dappled harmonies being reminiscent of the Bryds, Beatles or Beach Boys, while the sparse purity of Gale’s vocals and the uncluttered instrumentation bring to mind the best of Sparklehorse.
The genesis for A Fairer Sea, Gale’s first since 2007’s acclaimed Pucker Up Buttercup, apparently came from a session with his Belgian friends Sharko, but the tunes were given shape by Bennett, former Black Nielson members Tom Wenzel and Andy Reaney, and hired guns Emma Maurice, Teuk Henri, Julien Paschal and Matt Cha.
However, it was another Oxford legend, Ride’s Mark Gardner, who (along with Bennett) co-produced the album at Cumnor’s Cold Room Studios, and added his own backing vocals, who has helped create an instant classic.
Highlights include opener ‘22’ - its upbeat driving guitars belying sadder lyrics, which ascends to a neck-tingling chorus of joyous swagger; the dreamy ‘Trapeza’; and the moving ‘I’m Going to the Country’ on which Gale’s voice switches abruptly between crystalline loneliness and honey-dipped nostalgia, all to a heart-wrenching slide guitar backing.
Atmospheric, moving, jubilant and tender, this is a stunning album which ought to feature highly in any pick of 2013’s finest. A rash claim that may seem, with us still in the depths of January, but records of such gentle beauty are rare indeed.
* Co-Pilgrim play Modern Art Oxford on February 23.