Through two albums, Wildbirds & Peacedrums have proven that minimalism can yield maximum results. Married Swedes Mariam Wallentin (vocals) and Andreas Werliin (assorted percussion) make the absolute most out of drums and voice, the two most basic instruments available to man. While the instruments of choice may be basic (and they do add in the occasional xylophone and the like), the well-crafted songs on The Snake are certainly anything but routine, often combining elements of folk, jazz, rock and the psychedelic into one tightly-wound tune.
Last year’s Heartcore was an interesting introduction for the verbosely named duo. For the most part, the disc is airy, light, frenetic even. It has its darker moments, but the album features a few jammers, particularly the single “Doubt/Hope”. But, as the eerie album cover would suggest, The Snake is smokier, heavier, hazie, and this is clear from the very outset, with album-opener “Island”. A lithe, droning wall of vocals hangs back in the shadows as Wallentin croons about a man swimming to Iceland, for some likely-tragic reason. Without any sort of accompaniment, the two combined layers of vocals reveal a very particular set of influences. While the backing vocals are tribal (almost Tuvan), the lead flips and floats, much like BjÃ¶rk, BjÃ¶rk-devotees Dave Longstreth and Cocorosie, as well as jazz vocalists like Ella Fitzgerald and Nina Simone.
Werliin’s jittery drumming enters into the fray on the next track, transforming Wallentin’s melancholic croon into an anxious, cracking, entrancing mess. While “Island” remains controlled, ethereal, “There Is No Light” is stunningly human. Its impossible not to dance along to the drums, though the vocals are sputtered in airy, aching bursts of pain and distress. “Chain of Steel” introduces new instrumentation: a very chain-like, triplet marimba line and a steel-drum chorus that Wallentin coos along with. But, as usual, the skipping cymbal hits and dramatic, nearly-Showtune-y vocals remain at song’s the arresting core.
The stuttered, tribal drumming of “Today/Tomorrow” produces another danceable one, with Wallentin’s stunningly confident and strong vocals. But, on a dime, the rhythm falls away about halfway through the song, resulting in a swirling harmony/cymbals duet. But, yet again, the song’s smirking, assured attitude picks up, this time followed with a nearly double-speed rhythm. This transformative ability to change, alter and shift is integral to Wildbirds & Peacedrums’ songwriting as well as their performance.
The Snake‘s closing track “My Heart” is nothing shy of masterpiece. The seven plus minute length seems to indicate a sprawling and dense track, but the song is nothing of the sort. Instead, the weightless rhythm of steel drum, kit and handclaps could please any Feist fan, while Wallentin’s deep, about-to-be-heartbroken cries cut to the core. The repeated chorus of “You see, I’m lost without your rhythm” sounds so true, so straight out of one of her love letters (considering the circumstances), however, the end is more triumphant than sad; though maybe near lost, her love provided “a few seconds of sweet immortality”. This one checks in alongside “better to have loved and lost” etc, etc, etc.
Whether it’s the metallic, Jew’s harp-addled grit of “So Soft, So Pink”, the experimental-soul flit and jab of “Places” (whose intro, for my money, is reminiscent of the intro from Dirty Projectors’ “Stillness is the Move”) or the nearly Fleetwood Mac power ballad of “Great Lines”, Wallentin manipulates her voice like a master, combining unique vocal tones with different rhythmic styles into a different, powerful mood as the song calls for it. That’s not to say Werliin isn’t as important; quite to the contrary, as his fluid, constantly adapting and moving (without being confused or confusing, which is a challenge to be sure) is just as integral. Which, I guess, makes the fact that they’re married even more fitting and adorable.
But, this isn’t a gimmicky disc where you admire the lovely couple. This is the work of two master artists making fresh music out of the oldest tricks in the book.
“There Is No Light”