It’s great again to feel the incoming breeze of rebel music and energy of freedom after a few months of rather bourgeois considerations. And it’s great to say that one melody by new Ooberman project Symphonika can wipe out what seems to have been years, but what was actually weeks of “trying” to make positives out of negatives, trying to keep rebel flames flying in the face of strong winds, when of coarse positives always exist on their own and are separate of negatives anyway, and rebellion is always way past trying. The beauty of a Hermann Hesse story is not that it was adversely inspired but that it was poetically inspired. Different planes, different motives, spectacularly different results.
And actually these few weeks involved in the thrust of planning at the “Tabu project” in Cardiff have been an edifying journey into the storm. I think the best, yet most painful part of it was the night that Primal Scream came to town, and I was listening to The Jaynes at home, who we’d had play a couple of times at the club, and having to go out that night was like getting out of a warm bath in the cold, going into the packed university to see the Scream swagger and swear, rather inanely, when everything had the colour of rebel poets and affectionate Pop at home. Anyway as an ode to that look out for The Jaynes track on this oncoming mix.
So where to start? A lot has been said about twee pop of late, calls of “Kill Twee Pop” an educated reaction from the rebels who perceive the fashionable sensitivity that’s hardened around the genre. But one of the bands who’ve been acclaimed by the twee pop press have caught the ear around these parts. Norway’s Je Suis Animal are an elegantly mis-shaped bunch judging by this picture under a fashionable archway, and their ‘The Mystery of Marie Roget’, which takes its title from an Edgar Allan Poe detective story based on the murder of a perfume shop assistant, has enough sophisticated allure and fascination to turn the head of a man in a neck brace. The way that singer Elin Grinstad rolls the “g” of “Roget” round her tongue in ebullient gallic fashion and bobs along with effortless wonder as the song collects and springs out into shimmering keyboard flourishes, the way an alarm bell rings on lyrical cue in the middle like an inspired, off-key insertion in a Hitchcock film, all points to Je Suis Animal’s debut album Self Taught Magic From A Book on Angular Records being a lesson in Pop cleverness, humour and mystery.
Continuing on down the path of mystery and otherly allure, and Marissa Nadler’s ‘Leather Made Shoes’ has the beauty of a rich landscape coated in light mist. A wonder shrouded in melancholy. Nadler is, unsurprisingly, a painter, excelling in “encaustic painting”, in which coloured pigments are added to heated beeswax and applied to wood, and the kind of texture that this style allows one to envisage is also evoked by her music, which has a dreamy, oily, colour-speckled individuality and a certain depth of warmth and beauty. One can get lost in the lyrical, swaying world of Nadler’s ‘Leather Made Shoes’, all light shades and personal wonder as it is, sweet flourishes and twists, resplendent of hand-crafted magic with a touch like a lover’s thumb on the forehead. Nadler is really something, and though she springs from Massachusetts in the US, every credit (as snooker’s John Virgo would say…) to the Cardiff label My Kung Fu for putting out her Diamond Heart / Leather Made Shoes set that this track can be found on.
Glastonbury’s Flipron have always had an otherly allure too, just the way their songs can evoke the tenderest moments amidst such dizzy melodies, the way too that they can spin the most satisfying of surreal poems to the craziest rhythms, place homely sentiments amongst exotic melodies, and ‘A Scoundrel’s Apology, Almost’ is one of their finest bits of sorcery yet, a poem of pure feeling that has an astonishing beauty, twinkling piano as if played by a weeping ghost from 1940 and a swirling-sad accordion and lapsteel running through it while Jesse Budd’s honest-to-god voice dances under good-natured stars. ‘A Scoundrel’s Apology, Almost’ is a thing of rare beauty, and one of many a variegated, brilliant cut from the band’s recent Gravity Calling set on Northampton’s Tiny Dog Records.
Flipron have a definite earthy wonder that evokes lots of genres, they feed on the most otherly-inspired corners of music history like vampires from the Outside of Everything, so it’s easy to move from them to anything under the sun. Alela Diane is a gypsy folk artist from Nevada City who taught herself to play guitar and had a stint in slow grass band Black Bear before being plucked from obscurity by the helping hand of Joanna Newsome. And Diane’s ‘The Pirate’s Gospel’ is a magnificently soothing track, full of inspiring lyricism in the finest, uplifting gospel sense and finely honed gypsy colour and sensuality, her voice a wondrous thing above it all, broad and rich, of sensuous grace. Diane’s debut LP, also titled The Pirate’s Gospel, is out now on Portland’s Holocene Music.
From Nevada City to Serbia on the gypsy gospel pirate ship via Diane, where we sail into a startling instrumental piece by Vojvodina violinist Lajko Felix and his collaborator Boban Markovic. Lajk・ is known to excel in a variety of musical styles, traditional string music of the Hungarian (Pannonian) plain, Romani music, folk music, classical music, rock, blues, jazz and improvised melodies too. In concert he plays zither, but mostly the violin, either with his small group or solo, and has played with a large number of “well-known” Serbian bands and musicians, including as accompaniment for famous Japanese bhuto dancer Min Tanaka. All of which might point towards him being a crassly-brilliant circus act, except that in his playing is found an individuality and concentration of epic proportions, and this track, the mysteriously-named ‘Felix Kolo’, from a compilation LP simply entitled Serbian Ethno, is marked by whirling-dervish festivity and maverick emotional play that could hypnotise a whirlwind. Lajko’s latest LP, Remeny, is freely available from website shops, but I can’t seem to track down the label for it… More dancing Serbian ethno magic awaits.
Sailing the pirate ship on to Northern Sweden next, and Robertsfors’s Frida Hyvonen has had albums released on The Concretes’ Licking Fingers label and Jens Lekman’s Secretly Canadian. ‘London’, from her latest LP, Silence is Wild, on Licking Fingers, chimes out with dizzy opening lines of “upside down to Italy and then again – London, you’re not my friend, but you can be”, redolent of a million future dreams and adventures, with a shimmer that sweeps you off your feet. ‘London’ is a track bursting with passionate lyricism, Hyvonen’s regal voice, deadbeat, aristocratic and sumptuous over music that dreamily sways with longing and beguilement, piano melancholically trickling and keyboards lightly playing on its surface. It’s epic Pop in the shape of wonderful constellations, and Hyvonen is no doubt one to pursue further.
The romanticism of Yorkeshireman David Thomas Broughton is of a more barbed, more convoluted nature than any of the above, but still follows on down the “otherly” trail – for one imagines Broughton sitting on the very edge of New Folk, in the jester’s seat, concocting his own poems of the deep, and rubbing mud in his beard all the while. With Broughton you get none of the earnest thumb-twiddling and pretension of the beard-brigade, instead a fascinating and satisfyingly strange beguilement. ‘Execution’, from his The Complete Guide to Insufficiency, on Plug Research Records, creeps along with claps of coconuts, a pinch of humour and blasphemy, an air of deep, earthy, obsession and affection, and a dark compositional fascination. It’s as strangely affecting as you get.
Indie outsiders with yearning souls and a penchant for subtle poetic sentiments might remember Ooberman of a few years ago, who emerged from a hand-crafted world of upper-twee beauty into increasingly abstract territory, spurred on by literary, philosophic, and classical music passions, slowly morphing into Symphonika, who’s orchestral work The Snow Queen has a warmth, beauty and imagination to set one alight. The Snow Queen is an exotic adventure into the eye of a wonderful winter storm, a journey through smiles and torrents of tears, through darkness and out into bright lights, both charmingly innocent but also charmingly accomplished in the hands of burgeoning composer Dan Popplewell, and ‘Fast Sledge Past Blurred Robin’, is its sweeping-most track, the spectral voice of ex-Ooberman princess Sophia Churney chiming in stunning new orchestral climes besides the strings of the Royal Liverpool Philharmonic Orchestra. Popplewell has always been a substantial outsider indie figure, able to make music ring with a deeper lyrical, spiritual-poetical magic, and inspire his small fan-base to take all sorts of tangents in the wider world of art (Ooberman’s Hey Petrunko set was dually dedicated to Hermann Hesse and Armenian composer Aram Khachaturian, sending wide-eyed and fascinated legions of fans scurrying out to get lost in the magic fairytales and symphonic worlds of both), and, brilliantly, he’s now completely free of commercial cares, being paid to compose music for film trailers and documentaries, so is in a position to give the whole Ooberman back catalogue away, along with a clipped versions of The Snow Queen and another recent work Dark Fairytales, all of which you can find sitting here. Please find it in your heart to put something in the contributions box though… and watch out for Popplewell and Churney’s enticingly-named Magic Theatre project this summer.
As I said earlier, Cardiff’s The Jaynes have been one of the highlights of my journey into the eye of the storm promoting a Cardiff club recently. If they ever read this I’m hoping they can reimburse me the CD I naively gave to a Merthyr celebrity on the night Primal Scream came to town (one of the band members hails from the industrial Welsh valley town so I thought the celebrity might be able to dip into his pocket for studio time for the band, or some such sponsorship), but I do have some tracks from The Jaynes’ demo left onto the computer, of which ‘Katherine’ is a short and sweet song of melancholy tones and subtle writer’s shades that equals beautiful, hand-made rebel Pop.
And then Kutosis, The Jaynes’ more commercially viable brothers, more commercially viable because there’s still a market for three-minute punk songs that kick like a mule while Pop weeps in the margins. ‘You Told Me Devro Decides’, from Kutosis’ Yoyoyoyoyoyoyo EP, is the sound of the kids off the street smashing the right windows, reclaiming indie for the humble and excited, musically concise, rebellious, and more exciting than any bitter social commentary could ever be. It has the precocious bubblegum indie shimmer and death-rattle of Screaming Tea Party, and a dissident cool to slay Topman manikins like Sinbad did skeletons. All suffices for a decent mix I think, a small haven where the otherly meets earth and indie sparks fly.
© 2009 Neil Jones http://miwsig.net/MagicalFairytales.htmlJe Suis AnimalMarissa NadlerFlipronAlela DianeLajko FelixFrida HyvonenDavid Thomas BroughtonSymphonikaOobermanThe JaynesKutosisAsh