Although Cosmo Sheldrake’s album Wake Up Calls could be considered a curious audio diversion to some, according to my last.fm profile - yes, I still scrobble alongside its three other users - it was some of my most listened to music in 2020, despite only coming out in September. Weeks into 2021 I’m still listening to it plenty.
Created over nine years using recordings from birds (mostly) on the red and amber endangered lists in Britain, Sheldrake layers and manipulates birdsong to produce music as calming as it is beautiful. While “Dawn Chorus” might give you a C418-with-birds vibe, with its fizzy synth drone and counter-rhythm melody, much of the album feels a step further removed. Many tracks, like “Cuckoo” and “Dunnock”, have a tentative, mysterious air to them, as their slow, pitch-shifted warbles create a bassline akin to a woodwind ensemble with an eerie difference.
At the centre of the tracklist, “Cuckoo Song” is the only track with a vocal, moving the bird song to the background and focussing on a chorus of vocal backing to provide a pensive, delicate piece with a more intimate, human touch than the rest of the album.
By the closing moments, “Nightingale, Pt. 2” delivers a quaint, merry pastiche that sends me straight into the middle of a deserted forest, making it hard to pull myself away from the album. Just shy of half an hour long, Wake Up Calls often finishes all too quickly. I’ve certainly gone in for second listens without hesitation.
Audio diversion or not, Wake Up Calls made for a corner of tranquillity at the end of my year. Playing it during a sun-filled dawn makes for quite the impact, and in these dreary days of winter it can transport its listener to warmer, wilder climes. An effect I’d consider a superpower. For that, I can only thank Cosmo Sheldrake and heartily recommend giving his music a listen.