Sunflower x Poisonous Birds – ‘Low Tide and the Dying Sun’

By Yasmin Brown

Aside from a single track released under his project, Sunflower, it’s been a while since we’ve heard anything from Mark Holley, and what a drought it’s been. His main project, Black Foxxes, have been all but silent since 2018 but as we await what will inevitably be a welcome return (promised for this year, no less), we’ve been wondrously treated to a surprise EP; a collaboration between his Sunflower project and that of Tom Ridley – Poisonous Birds.

‘Low Tide and the Dying Sun’ undoubtedly falls into the ‘experimental’ category, with each track sounding wildly different from the last. As you make your way through the five song EP, you’ll find yourself surprised with every new corner that is turned, and while some tracks may lull you into a false sense of security, it won’t be long until the rug is pulled from beneath your feet once more as Ridley and Holley make yet another brazen move.

‘Low Tide’ is your first taste of this collaboration, Holley’s distinctive vocals accompanied by a soft electric guitar, evoking instant emotion in all who take the time to breathe in this track. It’s an emotion that any fan of Black Foxxes will be familiar with, as it comes with the innate ability to express your feelings through tone alone, but when combined with the synths provided by Ridley, these emotions increase ten fold as it builds up through crescendo to the tracks climax. Whereas at the start of the track, Holley’s voice is the main feature, by the end it becomes secondary to the cacophony of sounds that otherwise make up this track. As far as openers go, there’s very little to fault here, and as the soft piano chord brings it to a close, you’re left feeling reflective, needing more time to take in what you’ve just experienced. 

The simplicity of what comes next gives you a moment’s respite, the acoustic driven track combined with a constant finger picking riff and soothing yet melancholic synths working together flawlessly, and makes what had the potential to be a very monotonous track, exciting and impactful. It’s a simplicity that leads seamlessly into ‘Without You’, a song that’s vulnerable to its very core. Holley’s voice cracks softly while maintaining technical strength, perfectly matching the theme of feeling hurt and lost. Using piano as its main tool, as with all of Holley’s music, this song doesn’t just explain the emotion, it causes it to burn from within until you feel an unbreakable connection with its very foundations – a connection that’s only amplified by Ridley’s underlying ambient synths.

The impact of these synths are so great that it was only a matter of time before they were given the driver’s seat, and that’s exactly what happens in penultimate track, ‘Undertow’. The accompanying background vocals will have goosebumps forming on your skin before you’ve even had the chance to acknowledge them, the slow nature of the track allowing you to slowly drink it in before you close your eyes and completely lose yourself in the chaos ahead of the finale.

While each track is home to pain, this is never more true than in ‘Meet Her’ – a track that requires mental preparation if you’re to tackle it head on, giving it the attention it so deserves. The use of echoing vocal effects have immediate impact, highlighting the desperation in Holley’s words. There’s love here, sure, but it’s not happy love, and it’s not long before introspective hatred (“I feel like I am poison”) wipes out any remnants of happiness that might once have been. While the use of expletives can sometimes be gratuitous, Holley’s use here hits hard, as you taste the bitterness he feels before inviting the subject to “come swim inside my head again” and ending with the harrowing knowledge that this pain is far from over.

This experimental collection of tracks will have you feeling a million different things, every sensation as poignant and sharp as the other to create a cathartic release that we probably need more than we realise. It’s sewn together intricately, resulting in one of the most beautiful releases of the year so far, 20 minutes that are well worth your investment.

YASMIN BROWN

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