We have had a lot to thank Everett True for in recent weeks as he has directed our attention to a number of artists who may otherwise have slipped through nets. First there was the ravaged grit of RVG, whose glorious ‘Alexandra’ single became one of the highlights of our Unpopular mix for February and about whom we skipped off a few brief words at the start of the year, before the debilitating disease of work stole our tongues and suffocated our brains. Not that we’re bitter or nothin’. In more recent weeks ET has prodded us to check out Grrrl Gang and blimey, how glad are we that he did so? For whilst Grrrl Gang might not be an actual Grrrl Gang, we actually rather like the fact they are not. Indeed we are rather taken by the notion that Grrrl Gang simply redraw gender definitions and deny expectations and traditions whilst simultaneously drinking deeply from a musical tradition that roots itself firmly in the likes of (tossing off names in a sherbet rush of indiscretion) Talulah Gosh, Shonen Knife and Beat Happening. Or… or… McTells suffused in broken bokeh shivers of dream pop sheen. Pains Of Being Pure At Heart when they were 16, playing Tiger Trap covers on five and dime guitars. Helen Love flirting with Cub and tripping on a dancefloor sticky with spilt lager. Or… or… something else entirely. You’re going to catch their fabulous ‘Dream Grrrl’ track on the March Unpopular mix and you are going to fall in love. Plussing as which they have a song called ‘Guys Don’t Read Sylvia Plath’ so, you know, go figure.
And speaking of something else entirely, ET also recently hipped us to the sounds of Lankum, whose epic seven minute ‘Young People’ will be an early highlight of the March mix. Taken from their ‘The Livelong Day’ set from last year, ‘Young People’ has had us scurrying back to uncover the earlier ‘Between The Earth and Sky’ album and the ‘Cold Old Fire’ set recorded when they were called Lynched. All three records are fine pieces but there is a distinct narrative of a group becoming stranger and more unique as they have grown over the past six years or so. For where the first two sets are quite firmly in the realms of traditional folk played with an ever-increasing degree of tangential exploration, on ‘Livelong Day’ Lankum have seemingly found another level, beginning at their best to suggest the splendour of Fairport Convention, the group who re-wrote the, ahem, conventions of Folk Rock and pushed our minds into stratospheres we may otherwise have barely speculated existed. With a willingness to simultaneously strip sound down to simple refrains and to build those refrains into drones that circle each other on layers of spacious texture, Lankum tread the paths we enjoyed so much last year laid down by the likes of Alula Down, Burd Ellen and Big Thief.
It is clear from listening to those first two albums that Lankum have never been afraid to take on the challenge of extended song pieces, but it’s only on ‘Livelong Day’ that the group have mastered the difficulties in making those lengthy pieces texturally captivating rather than relying almost exclusively on the traditional narrative of lyrics. The nine minute dirge of Lankum’s take on ‘Katie Cruel’ is a key example of this, as drones turn smoke around our eyes and crackling strings scratch on opened wounds. Darkly, exquisitely, so. Album closer ‘Hunting The Wren’ is another magical dirge, spending seven minutes drawing us solemnly into practices ancient and strange whilst giving them a peculiarly contemporary sprinkling of faerie dust. It’s the haunting, sinister beauty of ‘Young People’ that we keep returning to, however. A relentless building of sound grows to an almost impenetrable barrier of texture as we loop around repeated lyrical refrains taking in feathers, sands, chapels, stone and soft winter apples. The song closes in on us, pressing from all sides so that the claustrophobia is almost tangibly expectant, whilst simultaneously offering glimpses of sunlight through dappled leaves, until we dance on dragonfly wings and fall onto dune drifts of summer dreamt delirium.
If we were looking for a visual accompaniment to the sound of Lankum’s ‘Young People’ we would do well to turn our attentions to Martin Bogren’s recently published ‘August Song’. A project that documents summer balls in the Swedish Countryside, Bogren’s photographs are often spectral, near-hallucinatory fragments of human connection in a liminal space and time between dark and light. There is little in Bogren’s photographs to give a contextual sense of time. The project may have spanned seven years, but in truth we could be looking at images made at any time in the past seventy or so years since the tradition grew from the Swedish branch of rock’n’roll called dansbandmusik. ‘August Song’ is rich in obscured, simple narrative and puts us in mind of Nancy Rexroth’s ‘Iowa’ or Raymond Meeks’ ‘Halfstory Halflife’ in the way that the photographic process seems to be an intrinsic part of the work, carrying as much of the ultimate meaning as the subject matter. More, perhaps, for it is the dissolution of form into ambient compositions of textural tone that allow Bogren’s photographs to break free from the confines of subject. These may be photographs of cars and trucks parked by the edge of the forest, illuminated by midnight sun, or of of dancing couples backlit by stagelights, but they are images that resonate with the wattery-eyed magic of chemically enhanced mysticism and this is what we take with us.
If we remember Grrrl Gang’s record again, however, we are reminded that technical proficiency can be be overrated, and certainly it would be true that whilst Bogren’s technical processes surely have immense importance to the quality of the work, this would be as nothing were it not for the acute sensitivity to human interaction that his images convey. The photographs in ‘August Song’ may be fuzzy monochrome impressions of transitory passions and but they contain more colour and genuine warmth than a million Instagrammed snaps of vacuous lust and glamour.