wears the trousers magazine

sacred harp: sacred harp EP (2009)
December 16, 2009, 9:00 am
Filed under: EP, review | Tags: , , ,

Sacred Harp
Sacred Harp EP •••½
The Perfect Hoax

Sacred Harp is a closed universe somewhere behind ours, an isolated bulb of grey light that throws its sparks only within itself, a small underworld shrouded in a densely clad forest in the middle of nowhere. It’s a forgotten instrument that nobody can play, a voice of sorrow that whispers incomprehensible groans to this empty hidden nothingness. Sacred Harp is also a fairytale world combined with a nightmare, a gloomy fantasy whose sad, unsatisfied heroes can be heard to moan about their destiny. It’s a cry of fragile abandon imprisoned in darkness. More tangibly, Sacred Harp is a trio hailing from Northern Europe formed of Dutch singer Jessica Sligter (whom we already know through her solo project, Jæ) and Norwegian and Finnish musicians.

Holed up in Oslo, the band have put together four songs packed together under the eponymous EP released on new and still unknown independent label The Perfect Hoax. Over 20 minutes long, this debut is directed primarily at the patient lovers of slowcore, dark jazz, post-rock and drone subgenres. Influences such as Low, Earth and Bohren & Der Club Of Gore are apparent, but the line between imitation and inspiration remains untraversed. Sligter’s vocals are buried under layers of bass and percussion, filtered and uncertain, swimming beneath the surface of consciousness. Her voice is mysterious, uneasy, sometimes cutting like a bolt of lightning through a calm dream, at other times mildly soothing. Her words are often hard to make out, the copious distortion and artificial manipulation adding still greater mysteriousness to these compositions. The jazzy looseness and post-rock crawl of the instrumentation is enriched by interestingly evolving melodies and non-aggressive, mellow walls of noise.

Things start serenely enough with ‘Next Time Too’, its jiggling rhythm and sweet lullaby-like vocals invoking a pleasant and amusing dream. The sweet glockenspiel of the following ‘(Trial) & Felt’ prolongs the fragility of that subconsciousness, only to be disturbed by nervous droning guitar and funereal marching drums, a percussive omen of darkness heralding the first vibrations of an inescapable nightmare. Yet full-thickness opacity is postponed by the arrival of the cute and calm waltz, ‘Wither The Wind’, whose melody is introduced by fragile whistling preparing the entrance of Sligter’s caressing voice. The exotic mood of this sad, romantic piece, accented by crying kantele and emotionally touching balalaika, ends in a surprising silence, and from this nothingness emerges disharmonic shouting from afar combined with thrilling arpeggios of chaotic piano, dark jazzy Rhodes and coma-like bass. It’s a disturbing welcome for final track ‘Elevator Endeløs’, the soundtrack to an uneasy and painful attempt to survive the all encompassing fear of an always unsure mind. Sligter is shouting for help, but instead of deliverance comes even more intense distortion and, finally, an unconscious, deathly guitar theme. The nightmare wins.

As a collection of ‘songs’, Sacred Harp is an epic fight against doubt and depression; it’s a dream in which we hope that purity will be preserved, but ultimately it doesn’t stand a chance. The darkness and unease are stronger, and these feelings, neither aggressive nor weepy, are impressively conveyed by this eclectic trio by mixing elements of various experimental genres with an adventurous palette of instruments and brilliant pacing, skillfully processed into a coherent complex of a murky, smothering alternative reality.

Tomáš Slaninka
UK release date: 23/11/09; www.myspace.com/sacredharpmusic


1 Comment so far
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This is a superb collection which I highly recommend.

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