Myrkur: Mareridt (LP, Relapse Records, September 2017)

myrkur

This is a lot of fun from Amalie Bruun. It’s basically a cross between Scandinavian black metal and vaguely Celtic folk. She sings, mostly in her native Danish, with a style that ranges from a the more full-throated end of folk up to a melodramatic Kate Bush — and, just occasionally, a nice bit of shrieking for good measure. The music combines traditional metal guitars with some ferocious fiddle-work, the percussion goes from some equally high-octane metal drumming to something you could almost imagine was a bodhrán. Oh, and she apparently plays (among many other things) a nyckelharpa, which was new on me and I think might account for the almost medieval sound to some of it, and one track prominently features a jew’s harp. It has a nice line in spooky atmospherics, too, and some cracking tunes. Some tracks are more obviously folky, with just an underlying sinister growl to hint at its other side. Others are more straight metal. But it’s at its best, for my money, are the tracks where the two seem to be battling for dominance, coming on like The Devil Went Down if one of the duelists had turned up with a guitar and a stack of Marshalls instead of a fiddle. How could that not be brilliant?

I bought this from Boomkat. They call it Dark Ambient / Drone / Metal.

Jessica Moss: Pools Of Light (LP, Constellation, May 2017)

pools-of-light

A fascinating and powerful solo work from the Silver Mt Zion violinist. Each side is a continuous piece in four movements. The A-side, Entire Populations, combines densely layered strings, at times of a sort of middle-eastern-ish folk-ish flavour, at others of a spiky neo-classical, at times densely layered, at others more stripped down; Pt. II is dominated by a repeated doom-laden vocal, the mantra “Entire populations, oh, we can’t see” making clear the eco-warning at the heart of this. The flip, Glaciers, is more obviously influenced by post-rock, you could see it as an extended and more fully developed version of one of the quiet string-based bits from a SMZ record… it’s nice, but it’s not all that memorable. The A-side, though, is great.

I bought this from Juno. They call it Experimental / Electronic.

Mike Cooper: Reluctant Swimmer / Virtual Surfer (LP, Discrepant, February 2017)

Cover art for Reluctant Swimmer / Virtual Surfer

Here’s one to file under “strange but strangely wonderful”. The first 11 minutes of the A-side is Reluctant Swimmer, an ambient experimental thing which seems to be done on a prepared guitar, all scrapes and bloops and rattles: it sounds oddly like you’re inside some kind of arcane machine but in a much softer, more relaxed way than I normally mean when I deploy that particular metaphor; this is a hand-made and hand-cranked machine of wood and ratchets and springs. This segues directly into a moving cover of Movies Is Magic, a song by Van Dyke Parks which appeared on Orange Crate Art, his troubled early-nineties collaboration with Brian Wilson. The vocal is intimate and heartfelt and works brilliantly over the continued clanking noises and some simple sustained chords. (Key lyric: “Movies is magic / Real life is tragic / And fundamental though it seems / When you’re livin’ in your dream / When you wake up it’s over”.) The B-side follows a similar pattern. Virtual Surfer is even more abstract than Reluctant Swimmer, featuring field recordings of birdsong as well as some unidentifiable probably-guitar-based noises. This segues into Fred Neil’s 1966 folk song Dolphins (a song I vaguely knew, though I’m not sure whether it was the Neil’s version or Tim Buckley’s), and very lovely it is too. This then drifts off into a final few minutes of crackling and buzzing, a fittingly off-kilter ending to a truly splendid record. Experimental music has rarely been so affectingly emotional.

I bought this from Boomkat. They call it Folk / Roots, which seems to be stretching a point.

Lau Nau: HEM. Någonstans (CD, Fonal, July 2015)

There are some records I like because they challenge me. There are some records I like because, from the first notes, I feel like I’m at home. This record falls into the latter category. Which is not to say it’s uninventive, ‘cos it’s far from that… just that this combination of modern classical, ambient effects, and just a hint of folk could be tailor-made for where my head is at a lot of the time these days. This record is the soundtrack for a film by Lotta Petronella, a “boldly poetic documentary film that takes place in the remote archipelago, asking a question: Will the human soul ever find a home?”. Which is basically exactly the effect that this music evokes. The most prominent instruments are some unusual-sounding traditional strings, played by Pekko Käppi, who is “the emperor of jouhikko“, which is a 2- or 3-stringed bowed lyre, as any fule know. There’s occasional gentle piano, something which sounds a bit like a bow being scraped on tuned glass tubes although frankly I’m guessing there, ethereal vocals on one track, and a bunch of electronic washes. Like the landscape which inspired it, it’s strange, fascinating, and beautiful.

(The title is Swedish — although both Lotta Petronella and Lau Nau aka Laura Naukkarinen are Finnish, and the setting is in Finland, I think it’s the corner of Finland where they mostly speak Swedish, and the film is in Swedish… never let it be said that I don’t do my research… — for HOME. Somewhere. I am tempted to do a back-to-back listening of this with Sigur Rós’s wonderful Heim, itself the soundtrack to the home-coming tour documentary Heima, Brock Van Wey’s Home, and possibly Peter Broderick’s Home too. ‘Cos that’s how I roll.)

I bought this from the label shop.

The Woodbine & Ivy Band: Sleep On Sleeping On (CD, Static Caravan, March 2015)

This album finds the Manchester-based collective (I count eleven members, plus guests) exploring the wilder edges of the folk world, and pretty great it is, too. Musically, there are elements of proggy psychedelia, brassy big-band soul jams, bluesy rock stomps — alongside some rather lovely melodic folk. Naturally, the instrumentation reflects this range, and alongside the guitars we get harp, pedal steel, trumpet & sax, a rather lovely Hammond (but is it a B3???), and even a subtle use of synths. The vocals are more straight-up folky, which is something of a relief, and seems to keep things solidly rooted (despite what you may fear from the foregoing, this record steers well clear of the self-indulgent masturbatory wig-out traps): she is delicate and pure, he is earthy and honest, just as we’ve been taught to expect. Lyrics range from archetypal folk fare such as minstrels and kings, white hares, and encounters with the figure of Death to protests against the arms trade to the hypnotic mantra of the title track. There’s a pretty even mix of originals, covers, and trad arrangements. Because I’m ignorant, I only knew two before this album. The closing track is a simple and pretty heart-rending take on Rebel Soldier, dominated by an almost Goldmundesque piano line and a perfectly raw male vocal, with a splendid mournful trumpet coming in near the end. Most excitingly, to me, is Pretty Fly Lullaby, which is the soundtrack to one of my favourite scenes in the whole of cinema: I adore Charles Laughton’s The Night Of The Hunter, and I especially adore the scene where the children float down the river in their little old skiff… the magical unreality of those sound-stage sets, that gorgeous milky black-and-white photography, the cut-aways of animals, the way it so poetically evokes how the characters are being cut adrift from the only world they knew… and, yes, little Pearl’s beautiful and eerie song. A fantastic highpoint in a fantastic record.

I bought this from Norman Records.

Peter Broderick: Music For Confluence (CD, Erased Tapes, November 2011)

Peter Broderick’s talent in a wide range of styles is hugely impressive, but it makes it hard for me to get a handle on his œuvre. What’s he going to come out with next? Well, I think I’d place Music For Confluence somewhere on an axis between the gorgeous orchestral sweep of Float and the rich Americana of Home. The strings range from the folksy to the classical, the piano has a jangly tone but a deftness of touch which almost sounds like a concert pianist has been hired to play in the bar of an old cowboy movie. As with all his previous work, it has an engaging intimacy. He’s still never equalled his debut, in my book, but this is a fine piece of work.

I bought this from Boomkat. They call it Home Listening / Modern Classical / Ambient.

Sanso-Xtro: Fountain Fountain Joyous Mountain (CD, Digitalis, April 2011)

Melissa Agate pairs gentle, woozy drones with delicate melodies on a range of tinkling chimes, slow-mo accordians, folky guitars, and the like. The effect is a very sweet kind of psychedelia. Of course, too much sweetness gets cloying, and I do find her occasional vocals tend to tip things over the edge into tweeness. But for most of the album she gets it right, and at times she performs a very fragile kind of magic.

I bought this from Boomkat. They call it Electronic.

Peter Broderick: Home (CD, Bella Union, October 2008)

I previously knew Broderick mostly for his wonderful Float, a modern classical masterpiece. This is very different: gone are the lush strings, gone the cinematic beauty. In are vocals, layered choral harmonies, acoustic guitars, home-made clay whistles, and (whisper it) proper songs. That said, this is not a conventional folk album. The production is too knowing for that (and, coming from me, that’s a compliment). The songs are excellent, and it has a lovely intimate feeling. I can’t help feeling slightly underwhelmed after being blown away by his debut, but it will be fascinating to see where he goes next.

I bought this from Boomkat. They describe it as folk/americana.