Acclaimed English musician Johnny Flynn’s new album Lost In The Cedar Wood, co-written with his friend, award-winning author Robert Macfarlane, will be released on May 14, 2021 on Transgressive. Today’s announcement comes with the release of the album’s first track “Gods and Monsters”.
“Gods and Monsters” is inspired in part by the pioneering Victorian Assyriologist George Smith, who died in Aleppo in 1876, stranded in a cholera epidemic, heartbroken and writing feverishly to his wife and six children back in England. It’s a song about false dreams and true love, about what it means to long for “the lights on the other side”, and how to tell a “story without ending.”
Produced by Charlie Andrew (Alt-J, Marika Hackman) and featuring musical contributions from Cosmo Sheldrake, Merlin Sheldrake and Johnny’s 9-year-old son Gabriel, Lost In The Cedar Wood is Johnny Flynn’s fifth studio album and the first since 2017’s highly lauded Sillion. Johnny regularly composes music for film, TV and theatre - including work for period instruments at the famed Shakespeare’s Globe Theatre in London. Also an accomplished actor, Johnny’s recent acting projects include Hangmen and True West (for which he also composed the music) on stage and Emma, Beast, Stardust and The Dig on film.
Robert Macfarlane is the author of internationally award-winning and best-selling books about nature, people, place and landscape including Underland (2019) and The Lost Spells (2020). He’s collaborated widely, including with artist Stanley Donwood, and musicians Cosmo Sheldrake, Jocelyn Pook and Karine Polwart. His work has been widely adapted for film, stage, television, radio, music and performance, and his books have been published in 30 languages. In 2017 he was awarded the EM Forster Prize for Literature by the American Academy of Arts and Letters.
Johnny and Robert began work on the album in the first weeks of the pandemic, wanting to make music that sang of those dangerous, disorienting spring days; when birdsong was brighter - and the sense of bewilderment more powerful - than any of us had known before. They drew inspiration in part from The Epic of Gilgamesh, the oldest surviving work of world literature; an epic poem from Ancient Mesopotamia that contains the earliest version of the Flood Myth.
To Johnny and Robert, Gilgamesh resonated eerily with the present moment - and it catalysed their song-writing. For Gilgamesh is a story of friendship, love, loss, grief, bad governance and good dreaming; of natural disaster and environmental crisis. It also contains the first recorded act of human destruction of the natural world: when Gilgamesh and Enkidu travel to the Sacred Cedar Wood, slay the guardian spirit of the forest, and cut down the trees with their axes, thereby bringing catastrophe upon themselves.
Johnny and Robert wrote the album between March 2020 and February 2021, during a year in which we all wandered unsure of our path, lost in the cedar wood. The songs were composed in large part as a correspondence, through a back-and-forth of notebook pages, voice-recordings and WhatsApp-messages, at a time when lockdowns made meeting in person impossible. The first eight songs were recorded in an off-grid cottage deep in a Hampshire forest in rural England, with the sounds of chainsaws felling trees drifting in through the windows along with the birdsong.
The result is an album at once urgent and ancient, which fuses poetry, landscape, myth and music into something unique. These are songs that ring with hope, love and sadness –– and one need not know anything about The Epic of Gilgamesh to be touched by them.
From “Ten Degrees of Strange”, about outrunning grief, through to the closing elegy “Ferryman”, by way of story-songs such as “Nether” and “Flood in the Desert”, the uplifting “Home and Dry”, and the rising joy of “The World to Come”, Lost In The Cedar Wood is a consistently surprising and moving album.