ALBUM REVIEW: Bing & Ruth – ‘Species’ – majestic and meditative

SOMETIMES the cliches can ring true. It’s a marriage made in heaven. 

Take 4AD, Ivo Watts-Russell beautiful stable, which has given us such moments as … well, Victorialand. Need we say more? 

Take also then, New York’s David Moore, who had quietly – and quietly again is le mot juste here – been making beguiling, minimalist musics as Bing & Ruth for a decade and a clutch of whispered-about releases until he came to 4AD in 2017 with the ampersand settled on as the correct conjoinment.

He debuted with the rewarding depths of No Home For the Mind, an album at once studied and precisely composed – it is reported that the work was composed on some 17 pianos across America – yet also captured quickly, two days only in the recording in a home town church.

And now we have Species, his new work, for although other musicians are involved here, the blend, the very weave of David’s work is so very interlaced, so conjoined, that you’ll have to listen hard and deep to unpick fellow travellers of some 15 years, double bassist and a clarinettist Jeff Ratner and Jeremy Viner, from that weave – luckily, this is exactly what you should do, what you must do. Listen. Deep.

Let’s move closer, now. Species is an exploration of the Farfisa organ, on the level of the album’s instrumentation. Although it was a favourite of certain world-straddling prog behemoths, it’s an instrument that has never really set the world on fire in terms of a cult sound in the way of say, the swirling, Leslie-speakered Hammond, or the immediate and languid sunkiss of the Fender Rhodes. The last band I can remember associating it with were underrated early Creation mod-jangle band The Jasmine Minks who were, it should be said, a very fine thing; but hardly abstractive and ambient. A chin is rubbed, an eyebrow raised. What will Bing & Ruth be able to conjure from such?

Ssssh. We really are in the safest hands. An instrument maybe only a mother could love, close to last to be picked for the team, gave up its tonal secrets to David after around a half a decade of exploration, previous to which even he thought it “pretty one-dimensional”. And my, listen

Once again the album was composed studiously, but captured more quickly: ” I have always tried to record this way.  I still believe it’s the most honest way to document my music. It gives a subtle but necessary life that you can’t get by any other process. You can feel the bodies in the room, so they say.” David says.

“Body In A Room” is our entrance. The organ is layered, with blurred arpeggio figures beating down inside its chest, giving movement, while other notes and tones swell, rise, play around the edges of complex discord and tone cluster; fall away, rise again. Something of both the mournfulness inherent to the tone and this rise and fall, this reiteration, suggests to me nothing less than a slate-grey sea in lazy, foaming surge. Fans of Mick Turner’s Marlan Rosa, come on over.

In the middle, you’re not sure of either shore. Don’t try dead reckoning, nor westing with compass and sextant. You’re exactly where you should be. You’re in the safest of hands.

David Moore of Bing & Ruth, photographed by Tonje Thilesen

With a title like “Badwater Psalm”, the second track, which has more of a middle-of-the-keyboard brightness, ushers in pictures of a rural church in a devoted hardscrabble community, with still touches of the old worships nibbling at its thicketed fringes. There’s an ecstasy and an engagement in this putative psalm which speaks of other concerns and approaches to the life as lived than the strictly ministered. 

We’re deep in now, as the psalm eases without pause in the bright and high, more formal arpeggiation of  “I Had No Dream”. There’s still undertow here, currents underneath. It’s wiser to stay aboard and let yourself be guided. There’s an element of In C compositional legend Terry Riley to this piece, in its enveloping cycle; for this and all the album, however, I also see a Tim Hecker circa The Ravedeath 1972 pulled back from the fizz and the fireworks of the absolute distorted harmonic overload and pushed to explore the points before it cracks open. 

“Blood Harmony” is a quiet and gentle violining, a pause, almost, before “Live Forever”: placid, introspective, processional, this is the only track on the album to step away from the Farfisa (in favour here of another Italian organ, the obscure Elka Panther). Clocking in at thirteen minutes, you are invited to bow your head herein, give way to the subconscious flow. Rapture; the subconscious; catharsis. 

David again: “The album is the end point to a process that found me slowly adjusting, shifting and refining everything until it felt just right, until I lost my grounding, and until I no longer had any thought as to why any of it mattered at all; settling into the trance and finding a nothingness so big it must contain everything.

“I’ve come to think of Species as a gospel album of sorts; as some kind of devotional, though it didn’t start out that way.” 

Here then, in terms at least of instrumentation if not of realisation and rendition, I’m tempted to drop a plumb line back to Alice Coltrane, her music a search, a limning of states and wishes and exploration.

“The Pressure Of This Water” seeps in, the pace quickens, we are back in the realm of the 60s’ minimalists at least in terms of the track’s opening, cyclical nature; slowly this buckles as beautiful overtones rise and sustain, drone and envelop. You’re drawn to its fireside. It slows, gives in to itself. Your rhythms slow with it. It’s a very powerful physiological and cerebral response. 

We reach the far shore with “Nearer” – not, as may be inferred, a pointer to the swansong of the RMS Titanic, “Nearer, My God, To Thee” – another open and spacious bowing of sound, David says it is rather rooted in “ … the vibe and circular song structure of country gospel and old-time fiddle music, the two ‘genres’ that have made me feel nearer to god than pretty much anything else.” As a closer it’s judiciously placed, allows us to wade through the shallows of the Bing & Ruth vision to make landfall. Or perhaps, like me, allow it all to cycle again. And again. 

A music and a vision without end, all stemming from the most humble yet so transformative of premises: “Three people in a room making sound together.”


Bing & Ruth’s Species is released by 4AD tomorrow, July 17th. Order a copy here.

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