Spousal duo Wildbirds & Peacedrums create an unearthly, ghostly sound which sounds wholly unlike most other contemporary pop music. If you listen to their excellent new album, Rivers - and you should listen to it - you'll hear Mariam Wallentin's touching, keening vocals. You'll hear an array of percussive sounds; you'll hear drums which keep pace with her words, accent them, guide them, and occasionally fight with them. On some tracks, you'll hear a spectral and beautiful chorus of voices. What you will hear most of all, however, is silence. Wallentin and her husband, Andreas Werliin, realise the value of the chord that is not struck, and the snare that is not hit. Every note on this record, every beat of the drum, feels like a carefully considered interruption of this natural state.
Don't think that Wallentin and Werliin are John Cage copyists: there is no 4'33 here, no prolonged absence of music. However, the music is so sparse (often it consists of nothing but percussion and vocals), so under-stated and so precise that it evokes the feeling of silence. This precise minimalism, together with the glacial beauty of the vocals, gives the record a distinctly Scandinavian feel: it is tempting to invoke geographical clichÃ©s such as vast, featureless snowy expanses or frozen lakes in order to describe the duo's sound. It is no surprise that the band hail from Sweden. Their peers, insofar as they possess them, are also residents of that area of Europe: their music sometimes recalls the otherworldly atmosphere created by Fever Ray's debut album, or by the work of contemporary Finnish folk musicians such as Islaja.
The record has many high points. 'Under Land And Over Sea' is a bleakly beautiful a cappella ballad, during which Wallentin seems to invert the myth of Persephone ("Winter kept us cold/but now it's spring and you belong to me"), accompanied only by haunting choral voices. 'Fight For Me', the album's most immediate song, is propelled along by tribal drums and features a memorable, slightly sinister chant: "Her thoughts went, fight for me/Or just finish me". The album's second half abandons the quasi-religious atmosphere of these earlier songs in favour of a slightly more grounded, conventional sound. These latter tracks are dominated by the sound of the steelpan, a Caribbean instrument associated with calypso music: the results, surprisingly, are not too incongruous, and relatively optimistic, pop-tinged tracks such as 'The Wave' and 'The Drop' hold up well. Rivers is an album which starts strongly, and stays strong. It's an excellent introduction to a band with a unique vision.
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