Thursday, December 31, 2009

Albums of the Year, 2009 : 1 - Wildbirds & Peacedrums - The Snake

"The Snake is a considerably darker album compared to the tender playfulness of their debut, and this smoky sultriness suits the music well. Just as the number of cuts on a diamond determine its brightness, Wildbirds & Peacedrums seem to have absorbed a huge range of musical resources-- from American primitive to jazz to Björkesque experimentalism and even Mongolian throat singing-- and mined them carefully before whittling down the essentials and fashioning 10 beautifully imaginative, contemplative songs.

The Snake comes alive through its imagery, which provides the life source for the instrumentation to be structured around. The opening track, "Island", recalls the journey of a solitary man who swims to Iceland under a canopy of rainbows, and on "Chain of Steel", Wallentin struggles to free herself from the emotional clutches of a female foe. All this deft wordplay makes for some fantastic lyrics, but the real magic lies in their execution. Wallentin hops and skips across her vocal landscape with full control and arresting finesse, demanding that you listen intently to her abstract storytelling. On a track such as "So Soft So Pink" she travels between vocal styles fluidly, from the aforementioned throat singing that blends in with the springy rasp of a Jew's harp before sliding in to soaring, ethereal melodies as she constantly alters her technique to enable the song to expand. It's barely six minutes long, but it feels epic. The way her soulful vocals maneuver across Werliin's percussive background recalls the dark beauty of Nina Simone's "Be My Husband" or Odetta's "Another Man Done Gone", which are all the more compelling for the warmth and passion that knot around the skeletal simplicity of the music. Werliin's sharpness and dexterity is the key to making this work: His rhythmic sophistication is the group's vital glue, and each member depends on the other to reach their full potential. As Wallentin sings on the final track, "My Heart", "I'm lost without your rhythm."

Despite their strong pop leanings, its not surprising that Wildbirds & Peacedrums were awarded Swedish Jazz Act of the Year in 2008. Their equipment may be largely restricted to percussion, vocals, and the occasional embellishment of keyboard, but their ability to fully eclipse these limitations and create music with a strong improvisational pulse and so much vitality is a no small feat, and proves that they are continuing to experiment in magnificent, dynamic ways."

- Mia Clarke, Pitchfork

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