Ghosts in the machine: Orbury Common launch new album Sylvan Chute at Crofter’s Rights

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Orbury Common – credit Sophie
Written by Fran Pope

Orbury Common are supported by Tom Connolly and Buffee in a glitchy lineup of folk and electronic.

We are on our way down into the dark leafy cavern, the branch-walled chasm, the Sylvan Chute.

When the wind moves, corners of light fall on folk dancers, lanes, wooded glades.

But the picture snags, and the sound of voices comes warped through space.

And when we stop to get our bearings, we see that misshapen collective memory, the folklore of the backs of our heads, expands to include the dial-up glitch, the fluo ephemera, the teeth of pixels buried in the dirt.


Tom Connolly

Set up behind a banked arrangement of greenery and snaking soft lights, Tom Connolly opened with a studied and airy sequence of violin and electronics. The smudged edges of each piece made for an almost uninterrupted flow; elastic in their shapes and moods, these movements began, often, with traditional patterns before sliding into drones and loops. In what would become a theme throughout the evening, this familiar, classically pleasing landscape splintered into parallel realms.

One breathtaking segment built up shivered violin notes, each layer rising in pitch to create a deeply textured, shimmering blanket. The effect was like looking up through strata of strangely lit cloud, oneiric and rippled by wind. In another, a swell of melodies gradually smoothed itself into a single drone, cavernous, resonant, slowly rolling up and down like an immense blur-shouldered sine wave. I was so mesmerised by it that I wanted the drone to keep carrying me, like the sea, ominously huge yet somehow comforting.


Waking us out of a dream, Manchester artist Buffee brought a solid mix of warped, pastel-hued vocals and abrasive hunks of battery to her set. Even the gentler, more intimate stretches were sawn through by a jagged edge: the sweet scape shaken like a snowglobe, angular pieces flying all over at gabber-speed.

Snatches of breathy voice were layered a cappella – their patterns almost sugary-symmetrical, just off enough to be a little unhinged – before the haze was punctured by explosive chaos, itself bracketed cleanly in the mix with whiplash transitions. I loved the joy in her work, steeped in janky energy, with its fun, chiptune-y blips and samples alongside the rock-hard percussive onslaught and the whirl of emotions.

Towards the end of the set, a rogue pounding beat, out of time with the rest, came hammering in from somewhere unknown. Was it coming from outside the room? I got a little uneasy. Buffee brought the track to a crunched-up close, and the drum hammered on (haunted, I was certain by now) before she found its source and gracefully ended the set to a swell of cheers. Maybe not the intended ending, but kind of a cool one.

Orbury Common

With their debut album Sylvan Chute released on June 7, Orbury Common were ready to take us off the beaten path. Those familiar with the 2023 EP The Traditional Dance of Orbury Common would recognise the drum machines’ thoughtful chug, the curious palette of samples, and the new-wavey synths, here accompanied by freeform recorders and a chipper frog guiro. But Sylvan Chute is driven by a new focus on the duo’s own vocals. This also came through on this year’s  Waif Mentality EP, especially on the warped and wonky cover of the Chilli Peppers’ Porcelain, but this latest offering is altogether a deeper dive. 

And with more lyrics comes more storytelling. Where previous work often built its atmospherics through instrumentation and chopped samples, we now have whole strange and knotty narratives (Pale Faith, Jaundice and the Piperman, The Resident) to wrestle with, as well as more guileless sentiments (Diamonds and Dust, Fantasy) – although these glimmer ambiguous, too.

Tonight’s crowd were all in for the ride, with Crofter’s Room 1 so packed that the door would barely open into the room. In their usual configuration, facing each other across twin tables laden with gear, side-on to the audience, Emlyn Bainbridge and Josh Day-Jones began the descent into the dark green shadows. 

Orbury Common (3)

Album cornerstone Jaundice and the Piperman unrolled its queasy four minutes with deadpan spoken weirdness – “I am painting a sad picture of a spectre of the past” – nightmarish and listing off into whistling recorder, before boxing back into a nice rhythmic bloop-beep like a dialling tone. Meanwhile, Fantasy’s skewed, yearning cyber-romance gave me Two Shell, Oli XL-type vibes of the best kind.

The moss and fronds of Emma Thistlethwaite’s leafy installation made it feel like we were watching through a gap in the hedgerow. Among the gear, wires stood hooped like brambles in primary colours. And, centre stage, the familiar TV screen that accompanies Orbury Common’s shows; on the screen, a greyscale of labyrinth circles, a pacing tree-stick-man, Celtic loops, hands, and the infamous fluffy Orbury bunny in slow rotation.

Another lush cut from the new album, The Resident, drew cheers from the crowd, beguiling with its loose sway of drums, brushes, silvery pads, and wistful cyborg vocals. This was peak sad-millennium-robot feeling – the trancey harmonies in the chorus like nostalgia for a distant moon, or the countryside in the 90s – weirdly in tune with the rural backdrop, in a trippy Southwest-England kind of way. 

Still, I can’t be prised away from Crooked Bayleaf. I’m unapologetically committed to it as my favourite track, and I didn’t even try to contain my excitement when they played it. And, despite the obvious focus on new material, they closed up with the much-loved and indisputably banging Haberdashery. A deeply satisfying vista of new music, bracketed with old friends. 

The whole evening – music, lyrics, sounds, staging – left me with a sense of tech-nostalgia, of playfully flipped tradition. A frisson of ghosts in the machine: ghosts of the past, of stories, of history, of places, right from standing stones and dark wooded corners to ghosts of longing, desire, forgotten tech, dial-up, flickering images here-again, gone-again. But really, in the moment, what I came away with was an unexpected buzzing energy (on a Sunday night, after a full day at work), the wired shiver of the magic underneath the everyday, and a skip in my step as I walked home trying to whistle The Crooked Bayleaf. 


Photography courtesy of Sophie Redmond and Fran Pope.