British label Cotton Goods have been keeping a low profile of late, with their latest record arriving without a press release or any accompanying information. This doesn’t seem to prevent their releases from selling out within hours, thanks to a dedicated base of devotees who trust that the lack of effort spent on marketing simply means more put into the music and the packaging. The deliberately obscure, under-the-radar approach can be thought of as a brand technique in itself, a strategy that resonates perfectly with the wistful, low-key style of music with which the label is associated. These records, with their handmade packaging incorporating traditional book-binding techniques and materials, seem consciously designed to be stumbled upon after years of searching, perhaps at a village jumble sale among the bric-a-brac and piles of old football programmes, mementos of a bygone era on the very day of their release.
But what of the music itself, if it can be considered apart from its presentation? “The Sad Truth”, the label’s latest offering courtesy of the obliquely-named ^^^^, is a classic example of the Cotton Goods musical aesthetic. Long, slow drones wrapped in a fog of reverb, vague and dreamlike in all the most powerful and affecting ways, with now and then the faint glimmer of silver sunlight: the album’s four tracks are faded sepia photographs in musical form. One gathers the impression that these hazy, indistinct clouds of sound are in fact the result of an enormous amount of fine crafting, with a lot going on under the surface. In this sense they are perhaps reminiscent of certain paintings by Mark Rothko, which, despite seeming to consist merely of a couple of coloured rectangles, are in fact composed of many layers of varying thickness, texture, and tone, giving them the appearance of an apparition. However, the ghostly indistinctness of “The Sad Truth” has a temporal dimension lacked by Rothko’s images of eternal stasis. Our brains tend to associate indistinctness in sounds with distance in space, which in turn is metaphorically linked to distance in time, a chain of signification fully exploited by ^^^^ in order to create the impression of a music lost in an age long departed, of fading memories and regrets. This is not to say that “The Sad Truth” wallows in the past — each piece is allowed just the right amount of space to grow and develop, so as to avoid any sense of stagnation or self-indulgence. Indeed, the release’s brevity is in this case a sign of how well ^^^^ has judged the balance between succinctness and allowing time for immersion.
If you are already a fan of Cotton Goods, then you will be delighted with “The Sad Truth” — while it may not concern itself too much with standing out from previous label releases, that’s by no means a bad thing when the quality is this high. Those not already in the know may struggle to get their hands on the record, an unfortunate side effect of the limited editions, but one could argue that larger runs with simpler packaging would inevitably alter the Cotton Goods brand, diluting the qualities that have made it so successful. Personally I would like to see ^^^^’s music gain a wider release, perhaps on a different label, as it deserves to be heard by more people, but for now those who do score a copy of “The Sad Truth” will no doubt appreciate it greatly.