Dakota Suite & Emanuele Errante: The North Green Down

If The North Green Down largely hews to a predominantly elegiac mood it's wholly understandable, given the event that inspired its production. The project developed out of an unfortunate life experience that involved Chris Hooson (aka Dakota Suite) and his family, specifically the death from cancer of his sister-in sister-in-law Hannah. In August 2009, she, her sister Johanna, and Chris visited a place much-loved by the family, Southwold in Suffolk, where the three at one point found themselves walking back from the ocean through a part called the north green. It was at this moment that Chris, mindful of Hannah's fate, felt the first glimmerings of the music that would eventually grow into the album. Having established a prior relationship with kindred spirit Emanuele Errante (via a remix project titled The Night Just Keeps Coming In), Hooson contacted him about the idea of collaborating on the project—“a suite of hymnal pieces,” in Hooson's own words—that eventually became The North Green Down. The material is electroacoustic in nature, with instruments such as piano, acoustic guitar, clarinet, and cello (the latter courtesy of David Darling ) augmented with field recordings and subtly interwoven electronic touches.

Given the subject matter, the album could have been angst-ridden and overwrought; instead, Hooson wisely opts for a mood that's closer in spirit to stoical melancholy and music that's graceful and pastoral in character, moves that honour his sister-in-law by treating her memory with dignity. Some of the pieces would work perfectly well as soundtrack material for a romantic period piece (the pensive piano-based setting “A Loveless Moment,”  for example), and much of it likewise exudes a peaceful splendour (such as the atmospheric piano-and-strings setting “Away From t his Silence”). A clarinet's breathy tone introduces “The North Green Down III,” after which the by now familiar piano theme, as soft as raindrops, reappears. Darling 's beautiful playing helps “A Worn Out Life,” “They Could Feel t he End of All Things,” and “The North Green Down VI” (an eleven-minute tour-de-force) stand out as three of the album's most affecting pieces. A more electronic dimension comes to the fore during “No Greater Pain” when pulsations inject the material with rhythmic vitality, but the album's emphasis is clearly on the acoustic side of things. Though the work thoroughly earns its recommendation, prospective listeners should note that it is, at eighteen tracks and eighty minutes—equivalent in length to a double album—a long journey. Even so, the artists certainly honour the memory of Hooson's sister-in sister-in-law with this lovely and oft-poignant recording—a memento mori in the truest sense.

March 2011