A reflective, warming album about the choices we make and why we make them **** The Times
On his latest album David Gray proves again he is no average troubadour **** Daily Telegraph
Built around piano, cello, guitar and the stunning six part harmonies of Gray and his band, the songs are cinematic **** Daily Mail
David Gray today releases a new video to accompany ‘Accumulates’, which features on his critically acclaimed twelfth studio album, Skellig, now available across physical CD & vinyl formats via Laugh a Minute Records /AWAL Recordings. The second LP to be produced by Ben de Vries, the thirteen-track album departs from the shimmering electronics of 2019’s Gold In A Brass Age and embarks on a sparser, communal soundscape with the atmospheric songs centring themselves around six-part vocals with Gray trading his signature gravel for a softer tone. Recorded prior to the pandemic and released digitally to critical praise earlier this year, the album recording session took place at Edwyn Collins’ Helmsdale studio on the Sutherland coast, with De Vries and Gray finessing the mix throughout lockdown. Watch the ‘Accumulates’ video and stream Skellig in full from here.
‘Accumulates’ is a brooding, guitar-induced state of hypnosis which comments on the ease with which modern society can subvert once good intentions. Gray likens it to A Chomsky-trope about how things just kind-of seep into you, and then the next thing you know, you’re making a decision that is abhorrent (or would have been). But under the current pretext seems a reasonably sane thing to do.
Skellig takes its name from a formation of precipitous rocky islands off the coast of Co. Kerry, the most westerly point in Ireland. Ravaged by the Atlantic, the seemingly un-inhabitable location of Skellig Michael became an unlikely site of pilgrimage in 600AD for a group of monks, who believed that leading such a merciful existence, they would leave the distraction of the human realm to be ultimately closer to God. Gray asks for no literal translation of the above, nor prescribes any religious allegiance – but the story, told to him by a friend, has haunted his imagination ever since:
“The more I contemplated the idea of a small group of people landing on those rocks and establishing a monastic life there, the more overpowered I became by a dizzying sense of awe. How close to God could you possibly wish to get? Life must have been unbelievably hard for them and trying to fathom the deep spiritual conviction that compelled them to escape the mediaeval world lead me to acknowledge my own deepest longings to be free of all the endless human noise that we now so readily accept as being such an inescapable part of our day to day lives. Dreams of revelation, dreams of a cleansing purity, dreams of escape. Ideas that I think almost any 21st century person shouldn’t find it too hard to relate to!
The multi-vocal layering that weaves throughout Skellig came to Gray through the unfolding of 2013’s Sounding Out Tour, where he recruited members of his live band – including Caroline Dale, David Kitt and Rob Malone – to experiment on his back-catalogue alongside him. The symbiosis between the singers conjured a “communal spirituality” akin to the essence of Skellig, planting seeds for what would later take shape. Gathering up Dale, Kitt and Malone, and with the addition of Niamh Farrell, Mossy Noalan and de Vries, Gray ventured up to the coastal retreat of Helmsdale in the Scottish Highlands to live out the creation of the record. Welcomed by the kindness and hospitality of Edwyn Collins, his wife and son, the small, intimate studio felt a fitting location for a record eager to celebrate its Celtic affinity.
Gray continues; “There’s two ways forward in the sensual world. You either go for experience-over-everything. You say, “I’m going to be faithful only to my heart and to my senses, and I want to absorb as much experience as possible while I’m on planet earth. Or you fall in line with the limitations of some kind of accepted moral framework. It’s not so much of an either/or, but more a matter of where you merge those two ideas. Is denying yourself something a strength of will or moral weakness? Are you afraid of getting what you want? These are the choices that we make. Returning to the monks of Skellig Michael, their big decision was to pledge everything they had to nothing. To be of-nothing, with nothing.”