Archive for May, 2010

Thus:Owls – The Queen Of Fragile Hearts

Thus:Owls - Cardiac MalformationsFirst drama-loaded album from Swedish quintet Thus:Owls, Cardiac Malformations is a masterly directed, dark and poignant, sad yet heart-warming pop record.

The velvet curtain slowly unfolds. Still in a vast desertic plain stands the dark tent of a macabre circus. Swedish ringmistress Erika Alexandersson has convoked her gifted troupe, while the demons of Danny Elfman and Sufjan Stevens glide and twirl in the distance. The bluesy guitar of Erika’s sweetheart Simon Angell (from Patrick Watson’s excellent Wooden Arms) fades in winds and woods. Grief is heavily palpable, though we ignore whom or what is mourned. “I’m so very far from home”. Where’s home anyway? Montreal? Stockholm? Asgard? Dragging drum rolls, choral laments. Even when colors get brighter, the tone remains grave. Hearts burn with love.

Listen to “Climbing The Fjelds Of Norway“:

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Sometimes” hands clap, moods swing. Erika ushers, playfully squeaks, heartily screams. She’s a child again. “Sometimes I find myself shrunk half my size, screaming things I never meant to.” As she grows up again, she kindly proposes: “leave your head in my knee, leave your thoughts in my knee, and let your shoulders rest from the weight.” Isn’t she lovely? Sweet lullaby. Gling Gló?

Halfway through the experience, a strong, straightforward piece: “When She Arrived”. Who’s “she” anyway? Woman, child, seducing, caring, feeling, acting and telling stories, sneaking away just when you think you could catch her. While it’s more than easy to be charmed by the frontwoman’s great vocals, Thus:Owls really is all about the symbiosis of its 5 accomplished musicians. Erika’s choirs are just one of the fine ingredients at play, just as is the pulsing double bass of Martin Höper or the piano of Cecilia Persson. Backed by the low percussions of Ola Hultgren, the whole slowly build up to a brass momentum.

While electricity has been unleashed on “Let Your Blood Run”, tormented spirits are eventually eased by a gentle xylophone that nicely weaves an enthralling pattern with the bass drums and a bowed double bass. “A Volcano In My Chest” (Cardiac Malformation?)– Where the worlds of Sidsel Endresen, Björk and Heliogabale collide. Beware of the ashes! Thus:Owls obviously have a stunning ability to swing from sweet jazz ballads to pinches of harsh noise to cabaret in no time. And to elevate themselves again into pathos-loaded fields again. “Once you left this land, you arose to the gods.” Final scene – The wind loudly whispers, caresses the waves and vanishes in “The Atlantic”. The curtain slowly falls, exorcised demons have gone back to Muspelheim, you can lay your head back on my knees and rest in peace.

Buy Cardiac Malformations from Almost Music (Digital) or from your usual record store.

Woman On Fire: “The Calcination Of Scout Niblett”

After almost ten years of career and four full-length albums, British-born singer-songwriter Emma Louise Niblett paired up with Steve Albini once again to record some of her darkest and most straightforward tracks, thus radically parting with the folk tag that caracterized her early works.

The Calcination Of Scout NiblettWith Scout Niblett’s newest album, pressing play feels much like stumbling upon PJ Harvey’s Rid Of Me and 4-Tracks Demos some 16 years ago. “Just Do It” slithers in like a slow and heavy wave of raw energy. Unrefined arrangements, unpolished voice, and heavily saturated guitar. No drums, like on most of the album, but hell this is rock’n'roll. The title track continues in the same direction. Greasy and rusty, bowels and lead, dust and saliva, this is the lady’s “self-made sweat box / This is where (she) takes it all off”. “Cherry Cheek Bomb”’s Hallelujah will make your hair stand on your head before providing the opus’ most advanced drum part. Grunge roots obviously, but a distinctive attitude, a grain that cannot be heard or felt anywhere else.

Listen to “The Calcination Of Scout Niblett”

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From “Kings”‘ throbbing rhythm to “Lucy Lucifer”’s mind-numbing linearity, from the disenchanted lyrics of “Ripe With Life”, to the deafening immensity of “Strip Pluto”, each track will cut you a little more from your civilized self and lay another layer of plastic wrap between your fishy eyes and the rest of the world. With its lo-blues feel and roaring guitar riffs, finale “Meet and Greet” is as heady and intoxicating as a dark nightly road movie. Think Lost Highway. Uncertain, deconstructed, and oppressive. “When you gonna learn to play that thing?” The answer is a shapeless guitar solo that ranges from soft indigo vibratos to flashes of purple sustained chaos. And then silence.

Introspective without being hermetic, direct without being exhibitionist, The Calcination Of Scout Niblett is as obsessive and addictive as it is disarmingly unelaborated. Nothing is forced out and nothing is changed, even though her previous releases may have sounded lighter, if not naiver. Howling and strumming with the heated and apathetic sweet-fuck-it-allness and looks of a rebel teen, Niblett simply delivers her strongest album so far.

Buy The Calcination Of Scout Niblett from Drag City.

Scout around for Scout on tour through Europe:

May 9, 2010 in Brussels (Botanique)
May 10, 2010 in Amsterdam (Bitterzote)
May 11, 2010 in Schorndorf (Manufaktur)
May 12, 2010 in Gent (Vooruit)
May 14, 2010 in Frankfurt (Yellowstage)
May 15, 2010 in Bremen (Spedition)
May 16, 2010 in Aachen (AZ)
May 17, 2010 in Cologne (Subway)
May 19, 2010 in Oslo (Cafe Mono)
May 20, 2010 in Stockholm (Hornstrull Strand)
May 21, 2010 in Malmo (Debaser)
May 22, 2010 in Berlin (Hebbel Am Ufer)
May 23, 2010 in Munich (59t01)
May 24, 2010 in Vienna (Arena)
May 26, 2010 in Lucerne (Suedpol)
May 28, 2010 in Barcelona (Primavera Sound Festival)
May 29, 2010 in Averio (Teatro Aveirense)
May 31, 2010 in London (Borderline)
Jun 1, 2010 in Glasgow (Stereo)
Jun 2, 2010 in Manchester (Ruby Lounge)
Jun 3, 2010 in Nottingham (Spanky Van Dykes)
Jun 4, 2010 in Bristol (The Fleece)
Jun 5, 2010 in Brighton (The Freebutt)
Jun 7, 2010 in Paris (Point Ephémère)
Jun 8, 2010 in Dijon (La Nef, cour intérieure)

Dec 3, 2010 at the ATP Nightmare Before Christmas curated by GODSPEED YOU! BLACK EMPEROR (feat. Neurosis, the Ex, Tim Hecker, Marissa Nadler…)

Picastro’s Well Kept Secrets

With the release of Become Secret on Canadian label Polyvinyl (Monotreme in Europe), Toronto-originated band Picastro deliver their fourth album of avant-folk. Drawing inspiration from Cormac McCarthy The Road, they manage to turn the throbbing, obsessive cry of memory into a strikingly lively gallery of unravelled secrets.

picastro-become-secret-300pxA few notes on an ill-tuned piano, distant and bleak like a ghost, leads you into Picastro’s secrecy. “Twilight Parting”, a phrase repeated over and over still conveys an impression of instability: a chain whose link are constantly about to break. Liz Hysen’s voice may at first sound blank, atonal, colorless. Yet, with tracks like “Split Heads”, it soon declines every possible shades of whites, with glints of icy blues, faded yellows, and opalescent flesh, reminding at times of early Chan Marshall or Lisa Germano. A vivid humanity immersed in a world of decaying memories. The voice maintains a dialogue of Glissandos and approximate tones with Nick Storring’s cello, often reaching the frontier of sinister. Dusty strings and keyboards circle into a macabre waltz with “A Dune A Doom”.

The specter of Eastern European folk music is a relevant influence in the light of their discography. On the other hand, drawing inspiration from Cormac McCarthy’s bestseller The Road may seem an opportunist choice for an indie band. But with little technique, a taste for minimalist arrangements and arpeggios played on a loop, Picastro illustrate their gift for creating intricate atmospheres. They translate the despairing, almost stifling feeling of loneliness of the novel, accurately – though not literally – depicting the overwhelming mist of smoke and ash that cover, isolate, and humiliate all.

Centered around singer and multi-instrumentalist Hysen, the Toronto band was founded 13 years ago and started recording in 2002. Although they have encountered definite critical success, collaborated with various artists, including Owen Pallett, and toured alongside Godspeed You! Black Emperor, Cat Power, or Elliott Smith since then, their fourth album still finds them almost unknown, even to the indie-aficionados.

Listen to “Twilight Parting”

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Indeed it is not the most welcoming music. It verges on gothic folk with tracks like “I Know My Time”, while Storring’s untidy bows come out with palpable textures: rosin powder floating in the half-light and wood, lots of wood. Oil varnished wood, creaking wood floor and doors, patinated banister. A whole house – not so distant neighbor to Black Forest/Black Sea’s or Elfin Saddle’s – made out of the woods of cellos, violins, guitars and piano, assembled with the rusty strings and metal parts of a scarce electric guitar. A labyrinth clutter. A story is told in every room: that of a haunting past, that of renunciation with the lo-fi incantations of “Suttee”, stories of witchcraft with the vocal chaos of “A Neck In The Desert”. Cello and binary guitar pattern back up Liz’s voice on “The Stiff”. According to Hysen, this last track synchs up seamlessly with the final scene of Antonioni’s The Passenger. Let us know if you try, but regardless of the anecdote, there is in “The Stiff” a sense of timelessness, of fulfillment and soothing melancholy that clearly surpasses its stark instrumentation, and that is enough to make you press play again as soon as the 29 minutes – only?! – LP is over.

Behind the mist of smoke and ashes, each song in Become Secret brings their ghosts back to the flesh, and the forlorn rooms eventually perspire with intimacy. A vivid humanity that makes every painful note worth lending an ear.

Buy become secret on Bommkat