wears the trousers magazine


taken by trees: east of eden (2009)
September 15, 2009, 8:30 am
Filed under: album, mp3, review | Tags: , , , ,

t_lp_takenbytrees_09

Taken By Trees
East Of Eden •••½
Rough Trade

According to the Bible, one famous region that lies east of Eden is the Land of Nod, a place to which former Concretes frontwoman Victoria Bergsman certainly ventured during the making of her second solo release as Taken By Trees. That’s not to say she dreamt it up – the use of Nod to mean sleep is apparently inherited from Gulliver’s Travels author Jonathan Swift – pertaining instead to the original, Hebrew-derived meaning of the expression; that is, a land of wanderers. Drawing on a deep appreciation of Sufi music, Bergsman was seized by the notion (perceived by many to be a crazy one) of travelling to Pakistan to record an album with local female musicians in a natural environment, so she and sound engineer Andreas Söderström packed a laptop and a pair of mics and set off on an unprecedented mission. The trouble is, there are decidedly few women in Lahore who can play at a professional level – many Pakistani women are simply not given the chance – and Bergsman’s original plan was thwarted right from the outset. Faced with an extreme culture clash in which she had to fight to be taken seriously as a musician, as well as having to pretend to be Söderström’s wife to preserve her own safety, the project turned out to be a challenge even she had never dreamt of.

While most commentators have predictably focused on the influence of Pakistan’s most iconic musical export, Nusrat Fateh Ali Khan, it’s important to recognise the clout of Sufi music’s grande dame, Abida Parveen, on East Of Eden. A pioneering, classically-influenced vocalist, she shattered the mould for Sufi women as someone who dared to break into the traditionally male domain of qawwali singing (though not, it has to be said, entirely), and Bergsman duly credits her as a favourite. Bergsman, of course, isn’t attempting to do the same here – the songs are all in English and Swedish, except ‘Wapas Karna’, a beautifully captured, vibrant field recording of a young boy ululating about his mother over hand percussion and a wheezing harmonium. Indeed, the most obvious talking point is East Of Eden‘s audacious cover of Animal Collective’s ‘My Girls’. Realigned as ‘My Boys’, Bergsman reinvents the original’s danceable psychedelia as a polyrhythmic carousel of handclaps, kalimba and harmonium that could start a very different kind of party. Elsewhere, (now ex-)Animal Collective member Noah Lennox adds his backing vocals to a choir of Pakistani singers on the otherwise plaintive, guitar-led ‘Anna’, a thoroughly enriching display of seamless cultural blending.

Considering the problems that beset the making of the project, so much of East Of Eden effortlessly glides like a glorious shaheen on the wing that it’s easy to lose focus and simply relax into the flutes and gentle flow of songs like ‘Greyest Love Of All’ and ‘Tidens Gång’. ‘Watch The Waves’ is less hazy but still nothing short of hypnotic, again drawing on deftly overlaid percussion to create an emotionally resonant piece, as if propelled only by the lunar pull on the tide; a perfect attraction. Another highlight is the eerie closer ‘Bekännelse’, which given its translated title of ‘Confession’ is understandably religious sounding. Based on a poem by German writer Herman Hesse, the music was improvised on the spot with the low hum of the harmonium taking centre stage, even over Bergsman’s muted sung recitation, and departs on a spiritually awakening note that’s hard to forget once tuned into.

It’s easy to be impressed by the fact that East Of Eden even exists, and Bergsman’s sheer bloody-mindedness to see the project through to completion against the odds should inspire other musicians to perhaps broaden their horizons a little. It’s just a shame that, for all the bewildering and sometimes alarming encounters Bergsman had while in Pakistan, there’s little expression of anything more worrisome than a slight, indefinite perplexion. Nevertheless, the experience is something that’s bound to impress upon the rest of her work. It may take years to wholly manifest but we haven’t heard the last of Bergsman’s incredible journey.

Alan Pedder
UK release date: 07/09/09; www.myspace.com/takenbytrees

 

FREE MP3: Taken By Trees, ‘Watch The Waves’

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[…] What we said then: “Considering the problems that beset the making of the project, so much of East Of Eden effortlessly glides like a glorious shaheen on the wing that it’s easy to lose focus and simply relax into the flutes and gentle flow of songs like ‘Greyest Love Of All’ and ‘Tidens Gång’. ‘Watch The Waves’ is less hazy but still nothing short of hypnotic, again drawing on deftly overlaid percussion to create an emotionally resonant piece, as if propelled only by the lunar pull on the tide; a perfect attraction.” •••½ Alan Pedder […]

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