Posts Tagged ‘Doom-Folk’

Elkhorn – “To See Darkness”

For the past couple of years psych-folk duo Elkhorn has been amassing a catalog of burnt-cinder and toasted molasses guitar gems on labels like Beyond Beyond is Beyond, Debacle, and Eiderdown. Now they stand ready to stun with a two LP set on the way from Feeding Tube that’s packed with their best burners yet. I’m happy to premiere the video for one of the set’s absolute standouts, “To See Darkness.” The track’s steeped in soul-scarred smolder, carrying weight of apocalyptic magnitude in its wounded fuzz leads. The duo’s interplay of fingerpicked runs and high-plains sonic pestilence is peaked and prowling on this track. Should the gods of the small screen ever get around to working out a cinematic vision of Jonathan Hickman’s East of West a wise seeker should tap the duo to soundtrack the menace of Death spreading across the salted plain.

The pair rightly accompany the cut with an austere video of them live in the room with just a somber backdrop of blue to buoy the track’s sonic slash. Captured by Eric Silver (photography) and Josh Johnson (sound) the clip shifts the focus to the power of the music without looking to flood the viewer with anything except the awe and menace the song rightly inspires on its own. The album set, Sun Cycle + Elk Jam, recorded by Jason Meagher at Black Dirt, is out April 12th on Feeding Tube, I’d feel inclined to mention how necessary these are, but I feel like that video might have just made my case for me.



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Ulaan Passerine

Steven R. Smith shines yet again under the Ulaan Passerine moniker. Having recorded under several aliases over the years (Hala Strana, Ulaan Khol, Ulaan Markhor) Ulaan Passerine is typically his most devastating and doom-laden handle. This time he cracks the sky and brings more rain over two tracks of somber guitar and anxious strings. The first side, “Evening,” embodies the slow slip of the sun below the horizon, though in Smith’s world it seems that the orange and red hues of late summer are always to be replaced with an overcast pall of barren early winter. Its hard not to hear the wind through the trees and pick up a pang of dread when the mid-section starts clanging. There’s always been something cinematic to Ulaan Passerine and a sense of pursuit is driven through the fibers of this track. Whether that pursuit is human or just nature catching up and gnawing at the bones of the listener, it remains to be seen.

The track, in contrast to some other works under this name, resolves into some sort of calm – a peaceful moment that shows a side of Smith that’s all too often hidden. His works are so typically fraught that its nice to hear his playing used to calm and heal rather than to spike the flight or fight response. But, present as ever, the darkness returns as we ease into side two’s “Dawning.” The feeling here is less fear and more resolve, a trek bourn out of duty with a heavy yoke of obligation tugging on the soul as it opens. As the piece moves into its second movement (each side seems to be split into three movements) that feeling doesn’t ebb, it just seems that the subject of Smith’s composition has moved closer to certain death.

The track, like the first, also resolves into a sense of calm. Whether its victory or a well earned death that ends this piece, only Smith knows. How no one has picked him up as a composer of scores is beyond me, but this should act as a good resume for anyone looking to soundtrack a gritty Norwegian thriller. As much as I enjoy the tension, though, New Evening was welcome in its third movement focus on light and air. It’d be great to have a whole record that drops the dread and just basks in this amber hue. This is not that record though, tread lightly and listen deeply.

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Dean McPhee

UK guitarist Dean McPhee culls three tracks from a previous Folklore Editions tape and adds in an additional two new cuts for an album of haunting, atmospheric doom-folk that drips with forlorn sadness. Built around a bedrock of quavering drones, the record erects caverns of sound that are flecked with the stone-skip ripples of McPhee’s sparse finger work. The effect brings to mind Loren Connors or Evan Caminiti, though there’s something of a traditional feel to McPhee’s compositions as well, as if old English folk songs were being remembered through a veil of pain and distance.

Though the two sets of songs work well together, there is some marked difference between the sessions. “Danse Macabre” brings in some heartstrung slide, giving McPhee’s work a high plains twilight appeal. This works to the album’s advantage, standing in contrast to the more stoic opening pieces and retaining some of that spectral sigh while giving the track some more room to move. Though it doesn’t have that mellifluous slide, the closing title track also trades in ambiance for some more movement, stretching out over 14+ minutes of foggy, moody tangles of guitar underpinned by the soft pump of a kick pedal that works as the track’s beating heart. All in all, a superb outing from McPhee that stitches together new and old into an album that leaves its fingerprints on the listener before it groans to a close.



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Ulaan Passerine

I’ve had a longstanding run on the works of Steven R. Smith (Hala Strana, Ulaan Khol, Ulaan Markhor) and he’s never one to disappoint. The veteran guitarist specializes in carving emotion out of frothy noise walls with the vibrations of strings. His works are barren, harrowing, and sometimes laid down at the feet of desperation, but he’s never without slivers of light penetrating the mix. The latest as Ulaan Passerine, a somewhat more pastoral vision of his Ulaan line of projects, picks up the grey-hued yoke and absorbs dread and drought into two sidelong tracks of parched, gnawed-through doom-folk.

The title track flirts with the pluck of guitar before sawing deep into the growling bow work that permeates its majority. The song is almost entirely shrouded from light, dusk-deep in a subtle, yearning need that bleeds sand from the bones. It’s not anchored to pain so much as it’s scarred by it. The ruts of hurt show deep on its face, but in the end the piece raises its chin to the cold and stumbles on elegantly, beautifully with the burden on its back and not a tear stain on its cheek.

The second side is pulled out of the soil some, a blissful hope tasting the first drops of rain in years. Smith knows how to build suspense, tension, darkness, and light into his works and he proves that in his hands the low roll of grey clouds can be a beautiful scene. Both sides capture an artist at the pinnacle of his game, cornering a a niche between folk and neo-classical that’s never going to enrapture the masses, but will light the way for the right kind of lost souls.




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Grace Sings Sludge

Grace Cooper gathers storm clouds again for another midnight collection of her terminally haunted songwriting. Cooper’s work with San Francisco’s off-kilter folk group The Sandwitches laid the groundwork for her solo excursions under the Sludge moniker, and she’s been steadily conjuring up the woeful weeping of the lacerated heart ever since. The songs on Life With Dick, exist in a diorama of overgrown mansions, damp mossy undergrowth and barren basements that bounce her sadness right back at her from all directions. Cooper’s production is sparse and purposefully stripped back to let the sound flicker like the only candle in a room drawn off from strangers. Its somewhat heartening when she’s not alone and plucking, but no less full of the ghosts of the past.

On those tracks she ropes in the washtub thump of drums and a weary swing that feels like she’s stepped up to the mic at last call, growling and boiling her way through a set no one can take their eyes off of. Atmosphere is everything on Life With Dick, the air alternating between oddly parched and overly humid, as if the sputtering machinations of a malfunctioning air conditioner control the mood at any moment. Mind you, though, that Cooper is in full control of every smokey note here. The record is no happenstance of resources, she’s created this dark, Lynchian world and we’re set into it only to realize that her lounge has no doors. We’re locked in with Cooper’s sadness and it’s as captivating as it is contagious.




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