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The Jonah by United Bible Studies
The Jonah
by United Bible Studies
Camera Obscura : CAM084CD : 2009
EUR 5.00

Camera Obscura is proud to be able to present to the world the follow-up to the band's masterful "The Shore That Fears the Sea", and it's a cornucopia of sonic delights, covering the spectrum from delicate folk to sprawling progressive rock.


This eight-year old Irish collective’s third formal studio album joins an impressive discography rife with (mostly) out of print EP, live concert, and CD-R releases (including their 2004 “Lunar Observatory” release on our own Foxglove imprint). The original duo of David Colohan and James Ryder have been joined over the years by more than two dozen fellow astral travelers, and this time Camera Obscura’s own chanteusey siren, Sharron Kraus, Mellow Candle’s Allison O’Donnell, and Ivan Pawle (from Ireland’s legendary folk experimentalists, Dr. Strangely Strange) are along for the trip. Theremins, banjos, and heavily treated, spacey electronics usher in opener, “The Swallowing,” featuring arcane, spoken-word vocals from Current 93’s Richard Moult. Colohan’s sparse, isolated-yet-gorgeous landscape photographs that adorn the album provide a perfect visual feast for absorbing the 16-minute centerpiece/title track. Softly plucked acoustic guitars (banjolins?) wander aimlessly around Colohan and Caroline Coffey’s hushed vocals, like visitors to an unknown planet seeking shelter from prying, extraterrestrial eyes. Aaron Coyne’s album cover does seem like the Jiffy-Pop aluminum disc from Ed Wood’s Plan 9 from Outer Space wandered onto the set of 2001: A Space Odyssey to encounter the monoliths on a coffee break, but this adds to the track’s eerie, sci-fi aura, particularly the three-minute coda that seems patchwork quilted from the discarded stomach contents in a GWAR vomitorium.

But all is not sturm und drang… the pastoral beauty of “A for Andromeda” melts like butter into Sharron Kraus’ tin whistle-driven “Veil Song,” and her duet with Colohan on the traditional “Lowlands of Holland” is simply divine, easily nudging Steeleye Span’s interpretation into the background to perhaps become the new “definitive” reading. The brief instrumental, “Skelly’s Fireplace” is a lively little Irish jig that recalls vintage Dr. Strangely Strange, “Mirror in Cherwell” tiptoes delicately around your mental attic like a fiddler nervously auditioning for St. Peter, and hauntingly, echoed vocals, ear-piercing guitar shredding, lost-in-the-ozone fiddles, and Pawle’s hurdy gurdy backing add nostalgically romantic goose bumps to the Robert Service poem that provides the lyrics to closer, “Death in The Arctic.” An eclectic work of wyrdfolk-cum-space opera-cum outré, experimental skronk from one of Ireland’s most intriguing and exciting exports.
8/10 -- Jeff Penczak (30 April, 2009)
Foxy Digitalis

Excellent new album from Dublin-based collective United Bible Studies who were inspired by Richard Youngs' Ilk recordings to make a prog album. Certainly the album starts off very prog-like with sweeping synth and spoken vocals courtesy of Current 93's Richard Moult. It continues into the incredible 16 minute centrepiece of this album "The Jonah" which morphs from Peter Gabriel-era Genesis to demonic metal posturings to melancholic English folk (Genesis meets Burzum?!!). The rest of the album is full of pastoral loveliness and the Colohan-sung tracks remind me of Roy Harper which is always welcome. Sharron Kraus lends her vocals on a duet for the traditional "The Lowlands of Holland". Highly recommended. - Boa Melody Bar

United Bible Studies are a come and go ensemble with many brilliant moments on their previous, mostly cdr releases. The style was not always the same, but often a folk style inspiration shined through a often more experimental and rather improvised nature. Players for this release are Caroline Coffey, David Colohan, Paul Condon, Shane Cullinane, Scott McLauglin, Richard Moult, Séan Óg, Ivan Pawle, Gavin Prior, James Rider, Richard Skelton, Enda Strautt and singers Alison O’Donnel and Sharron Kraus. Even with so many people participating I have the impression that within a wider range of expressions, one of the male vocalists, Gavin Brior (?) takes the lead in ideas in more of the tracks combining a folk flavour or a partly folk inspiration with also a rather darker nature this time.

On “The Swallowing”, Richard Moult succeeds to recreate, while reciting poetry and playing high note keyboards with rushing wind sounds, a Current 93-like mood to open the score. The title track after this is a reference to James Herbert novel about the story of Jonah, a cursed man who brings bad luck everywhere. This long track has many sections and elements, from guitar and harp pickings with tremblings strings and violin to the swelling of a deep bass sound, a more experimental movement with some noises, then song parts and sad keyboard elements, as fuzz bass, and also one, extraordinary and different section with a deformed voice as if it is created like a sort of dark/heavy metal voice, with a windy noise-over effect, with distorted bass, and wild avant-garde guitar like Heino (!!) more in the background. Also on the last track this sort of avant-gardeness of guitar playing is added, as a last improvisation onto a sad song with wrongly tuning into it violin. Then on “A for Andromeda” we hear some analogue synths, combined with pickings. On “Veil song” these analogue synths, flute-like for some part, add strangely enough successfully its own sort of acidfolkishness. Some of the shorter ideas sound like inspired flashes, of inspirations that happened, just like a coming the coming and going of the wind or its members with their ideas. Some folk songs were especially picked out for Sharron Kraus presence who toured and now also recorded for a short while with the band. “The Lowland of Holland” was sung by her, with backing vocals by Alison O'Donnell.
This might be one of the more weird releases of the band, but shows a good range of their expressive possibilities.

"On The Jonah, Ireland collective UNITED BIBLE STUDIES hearkens back to a unique time in the U.K.’s musical history, when bands like TREES, FOREST and MELLOW CANDLE were cross-pollinating native folk music with the more adventurous side of progressive rock. Song lengths stretch, arrangements wander, droning abounds, plainspoken voices sing enigmatic lyrics with darkly natural metaphors. But UBS is also a band of its time, so less traditional influences creep in, particularly the Asian feel of “Skelly’s Fireplace” (likely a result of similar cultural signifiers, rather than a deliberate merge), the scree guitar on “Death in the Arctic” and the black metal vokills that haunt the title track. This kind of freaky folk has gained a large audience over the past few years, but so little of it has any real power or substance. In contrast, United Bible Studies mixes atmosphere and imagination so that it continues tradition and peeks into the future." - Michael Toland, The Big Takeover

Gerald Van Waes,

"Ireland's United Bible Studies have had a short, schizophrenic history, fluxing between a free folk jam band, a primitive drone ensemble and a full blown psychedelic folk outfit. "The Jonah" ambitiously lifts melodies and themes from traditional British and Irish folk traditions while factoring in guest spots from players such as Sharron Kraus and Allison O'Donnell of acid folk legends "Mellow Candle." As is customary with UBS, the list of influences and musical references is fairly long, with nods to Richard Youngs's prog rock outfit Ilk, David Tibet's Current 93 and freak folk groups like Espers. Their overarching ambition occasionally almost trips them up, as on "The Jonah," suite, where the segue from note perfect acid folk into generic death metal gets too close to theatrical parody.But it's hard to fault the scale of the project, and when it does work, as on the haunting, lugubrious cover of "The Lowlands of Holland", the results are genuinely otherworldly."
David Keenan,The Wire

United Bible Studies - The Jonah.

•Label: Camera Obscura.
•Year: 2009
•Style: Experimental Folk.
•Format: CD.
•Score: 90%
: : :

Ever since I first heard ”The Shore that Fears the Sea”, I’ve been thinking about how I would choose to review that one. It’s one of those rare albums that has so much to offer and give, but I can’t seem to find any fitting words to put on it. It’s experimental folk and it has to be heard to be understood.
Now, pretty recently at least, UNITED BIBLE STUDIES released their new album, ”The Jonah”, and once again I can’t stop thinking about what to write in this review. I should maybe go on and on and tell you about the many interesting tempo changes and how Colohan’s vocals are in perfect symbiosis with the often rather noisy and squeaky folk music. I could, or should, break the album apart and look for the very essence of beauty that has to be in there somewhere. I could. But I won’t do it. Come to think of it, maybe I could not. Words seem useless. Take my note of recommendation and use your own senses to explore this album instead.
Tho, what I can do, is to simply explain what I hear when listening to ”The Jonah”, this angst ridden, highly personal album of darkly psychedelic, mystical and rocky folk music.
It has lots of instruments, both acoustic and electric. Especially the synthesizers sound pretty retro and makes me feel quite awkward and alone. Can’t tell why, but it’s a true story, and if it can be applied on you as well, you’ll find out already in the intro, which is pretty much instrumental apart from a spoken-word part near the end and I get some clear David Tibet vibes from the monologue.
The title track, ”The Jonah” is a majestic and awesome track divided into several untitled parts, all with their own sound and feeling. This track alone, actually, would make a perfect MCD and a varied one as well! I especially fancy the mellow third part of it, and the playful drumming part.
Furthermore, we get some nice and mellow folk ballads ala AGITATED RADIO PILOT, a something that sounds like JOHN MARTYN and near the end, I thought for a moment I was listening to the new THE MEMORY BAND album. We get lots of screaming and crying violins and aggressive guitar feedback, almost drone in appearance. And of course, then we have ”The Lowlands of Holland”, which could best be described as THE. Dave Colohan sings a duet with Shirley Collins and need I mention the result?
Well, we get a pretty decent dose of... Everything one can expect for an album like this, with additions, and UNITED BIBLE STUDIES has gone from strength to super-strength and this album should be in everyCompact Disccollection worth mentioning.
The Shadows Commence

'The Jonah' by United Bible Studies is by their own admission a folk-prog concept record which is a rare thing in the year 2009. The title is a reference to the James Herbert novel that tells the tale of the Jonah, a cursed man who brings bad luck everywhere. Grim stuff! The cover is pure sacrifice madness with what looks like some kind of space station landing in some psudo-stonehenge environment. United Bible Studies sound like they are probably from the south east but this might a generalization based on the fact that they invoke the spirit of the twee folk rock of Pentangle. It's pleasant conceptualized stuff with proper dramatic poetry sang in a quintessentially British tweeness that I've not heard on a record made anytime before 1972. But what do we have here....The end of track two has a real nice King Crimson style guitar moment that has plucked my ears up and now it's track three and they've picked up pace a little. Now we've got ourselves a prog rock/krautrock wig-out with dramatic black metal vocalism!! Yes, doomy!! This'll be the sound of the ever oppressive Jonah!!! He sounds like Mum-raa before he clears his throat in the morning after a hefty night out in Plun-darr. OK, now it's calmed down again. I'm enjoying parts of this record but I'm amazed at how regal and twee it sounds. People just don't make records like this anymore and can't decide if that's a good or a bad thing. Basically, if you like 'In the Court of the Crimson King' by King Crimson then you might have some interest in this release. - Norman Records

Our myths live in the past, but when we tell stories about the end of things we treat them as literal. What we need is a myth of the future that can act on the same unconscious triggers that myths of the past are able to do. The best modern myths rely on both the language of earlier stories and the a vision of our own human situation. We are not the ancients, and yet the symbols that activate those parts of our religious and spiritual imaginings have not changed that much. In fact, the only thing that has really changed is how we have sucked all the mythic power from them by making them literal, what Umberto Eco calls "Turning metaphysics in mechanics." Talking about chakras or 2012 as literal is no different from a reading of Genesis that says the world really was created in seven days.

So thank God for music, where we can continually play out all the contradictory and strange and wonderful meanings that our myths provide. But even here there is the danger of musical ideas taking on literal weight. Or worse, in an attempt to capture something of the mythology of the ancients, there is the potential for seeming a parody of oneself.

But not with United Bible Studies remarkable new album The Jonah, who use to their advantage every musical style that has recently been capable of devolving into silliness (psych- and outsider-folk, doom, prog) and uses them tools to carve a new myth onto the stones of our psyches.

A line in the title track,"We sleep in the skeletons of large animals," is one of the most perfectly crafted verses in apocalyptic-leaning underground music I have heard. Not only does it invoke the whale of the title's Biblical namesake, but it recalls the human experience of all our stories. The world doesn't come to an end without witnesses, and no matter who we think we are, we will always need to rest. The song continues: "We rise with our back to the sun/ we live in the shadows of waterfalls..."

Myth implies cycles, and eternity. Literalism is the death of myth but there is no better place to remain inside those cycles than in nature. United Bible Studies builds mythology out of the real, and in doing so makes that human part of us that is born from the woods and the rivers and sky into something eternal as well. There is no death when at every immeasurable moment something is transforming, something is being released, being born, emerging.Mystery Theater

"Whilst shopping from Australia make sure to get your hands on United Bible Studies' The Jonah, a disc that in some ways mark a new direction for these Irish prog-folk masterminds. I guess that you could say that this is their way of doing the same thing Richard Youngs did with Ilk, his ultimate prog release. Apparently the band set out to do a prog album and although I think such a term is accurate I'd also like to stress that this still very much sounds like the Studies, just of a slightly variety. Imagine a mix of Nick Castro, Espers and the band themselves and you?e getting close the essence of this recording."
Broken Face

4 Stars

Review by Ned Raggett

Beginning with the sound of a whispering wind and delicate, beautifully played instrumentation caught somewhere between ancient keyboards and lost, lonesome guitars, The Jonah finds United Bible Studies achieving the kind of mysterious grace and sense of strange, otherworldly space too many other contemporary bands reach for and fail to find. Like some of the best of its forebears, the members of the collective seek less to preserve an old tradition than to synthesize a new one, whether it be to have the lyrics of a song consist of one briefly half-spoken/half-sung line towards the end of an arrangement, or screaming collages of feedback and noise resolving suddenly into softly sung acoustic performances and then back and forth again in varying ways throughout (as on the title track), an old-and-new trick that works as part of a continuum, and on its own, in turn. The result is also an album that functions as a series of interrelated pieces more than specific, individual songs -- there are certainly highlights, like "The Swallowing" and "Veil Song," but rather than offering up endless slight variations of the same approach, each of the ten compositions fits with the rest into a flowing experience specifically resistant to fragmentary playlist construction or quick bursts of hooks. Delicacy rather than chaos determines the overall atmosphere of The Jonah, and at its most delicate, as on the guitar/string combination of "Mirror in Cherwell," the feeling is pure melancholic contemplation.

Ned Ragget,

First a question, do any of the “freak folk” flag fliers ever cop to a Touch of the Tull (Jethro, that is?). Just curious? Probably the flute on “The Veil” nudged me to ask that, but staying within the preferred bounds of popular tradewinds, aye there are whispers of Espers here, an angel of light M.Gira too (”To The Newly Risen Mountains”) and so forth. The album hangs together well, while still having some stretch.Most of it flows in a bog of sorrow, albeit the lilting sorrow, that so many of us set our mood rings to! The title track has a killer pop song nestled not once, but twice, within it. Love how those verses rise for air, amidst experimental noodliness, a burst of drums, and scattering of electronics. That to me summoned an Irish Cerberus Shoal, although I could see some folks wanting less for more. Not me, 16 minutes of bitter bliss bits. United Bible Studies (name looks cooler than it rolls off the tongue) voicework can be nicely Adam and Eve,
so instrumentals like “The Swallowing” and “Mirror in Cherwell” feel to me a bit like fallen fig leaves. It is right to give them thanks and praise and listens!

-Thurston Hunger

Em “The Jonah” os United Bible Studies reuniam as condições perfeitas para a realização de um bom disco. Um colectivo dinâmico e experimentado; inúmeras e diversificadas colaborações; actuações prévias nos principais festivais underground; endossos de nomes como Richard Youngs, Damo Suzuki, Sunburned Hand of the Man ou Alison O’Donnell. E no entanto “The Jonah” é um daqueles registos que teima em não descolar.

O núcleo irlandês da banda, convocou para as gravações uma plêiade de nomes nada negligenciável : de Sharron Kraus a Ivan Pawle, passando por Alison O’Donnell. Contudo o material e as opções escolhidas para o interpretar estão longe de entusiasmar.

Como é hábito United Bible Studies inspirara-se no folk irlandês, pretende emular a Incredible String Band, mas o discurso que aqui utiliza, tende a parecer esotérico mesmo para os fanáticos do folk esotérico e pagão.

“Doom-progressive-folk” seria porventura a designação adequada para o interminável pesadelo ( 16 minutos ) que constitui o tema título. Este, parte de uma melodia folk mas rapidamente claudica perante uma abordagem progressivo com vista para paisagens inóspitas, pós-apocalípticas e cinzentas. “To the newly risen mountains” e “Skelly’s fireplace” retornam à luz, mas logo a seguir “Mirror in Cherwell” e “Death in the Arctic” ( esta baseada num poema do escritor de origem escocesa Robert W. Service ) regressam às trevas e à paisagem desoladora que caracteriza o disco.

Alison O’Donnell ajuda a salvar o tradicional “The lowlands of Holland”, ainda que quem já tenha escutado a voz de Gay Woods na versão dos Steeleye Span de “Hark! the Village wait” tenha muita dificuldade em valorizar qualquer outra.

“The Jonah” é um disco a evitar por todos aqueles cuja terapêutica inclua anti-depressivos. Quanto aos restantes a abordagem deverá ser , no mínimo, cautelosa.
Atalho de Sons

De oorspronkelijke missie van United Bible Studies (UBS) was om in de muzikale voetsporen van helden The Incredible String Band te treden. Door de jaren heen is deze visie toch wat bijgeschaafd. Het Ierse collectief verrijkte zijn muziek en liet naast psychedelische folk ook ruimte voor andere experimenten. Dit leverde UBS vorig jaar zelfs een plaats op de zevende editie van het Amerikaanse Terrastock-festival op, waar ze de affiche deelden met onder meer MV+EE with the Golden Road, Jack Rose and the Black Twig Pickers, Bardo Pond en Wooden Shjips.

The Jonah is de ultieme getuige van deze evolutie. Tijdens de opnames sprak UBS over zijn progrockalbum, waarvan het titelnummer de beste demonstratie is. Het meer dan zestien minuten durende 'The Jonah' vermengt immers vele stijlen. Naast pastorale folkrock voegt de band aanzienlijke flarden progrock en metal toe zodat het geheel een staalkaart biedt van de vele gezichten van UBS, die overigens naadloos in elkaar overgaan.

Rond het centrale nummer circuleren negen kortere nummers, waarbij de heerlijke folk vaak aan Espers doet denken. Het volle geluid is te danken aan de bezetting van UBS die voor deze opnames uit maar liefst veertien personen bestond. Bekenden daarbij zijn Sharron Kraus en Richard Moult, een Current 93-lid dat op opener 'The Swallowing' een goede vocale imitatie van David Tibet neerzet. The Jonah leidt de luisteraar rond in het muzikale universum van UBS en dat is op zijn minst gezegd indrukwekkend.
Hans van der Linden,