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Songs of Soil | The Painted Trees Of Ghostwood (Startracks)
You've got to doff your cap to Scandinavians ?? from Sibelius to Bjorn and Benny; they've consistently shown that they know how to bang out a big tune. Big, in this instance meaning powerful, grand, moving and, well, massive. They just seem to have a way with glorious and melancholic melody. The biggest tune can be the most delicate, as displayed by the likes of Herman Dune and Kings Of Convenience in recent months, whilst Midnight Choir attempt to build a cathedral in your ears with their grandiose, piano-led epics. Sweden's Songs Of Soil slot somewhere between the two camps. Singer/songwriter Christian Kjellvander and his brother Gustaf are here taking time out from their more Wilco-esque Loosegoats day-job to involve us in the desperate emotions that deeply affect them, and a great many of us all at some point in our lives. The Painted Trees Of Ghostwood is a very sad, but impossibly beautiful album. Reference points positively mug you during it's duration ?? The Good Son Nick Cave onwards, Soul And Fire- mode Lou Barlow, the meatier work of Richard Thompson and much of the output of Joe Pernice are but a clutch. Just seconds into the opener, Death Of A Harvester, you know that you're onto a winner. A brief clatter, an accordion wheeze and a voice, way back in the mix ?? "One of these days it's going to explode and start f..." It says. An acoustic guitar wafts in, and then voices that snatch immediately at your breath. Baritone Christian has a tone of whiskey in hot milk, bringing to mind Gordon Lightfoot and Charlie Rich. But better. Gustaf takes the higher register, and you couldn't separate the harmonies with a jemmy. One and a half minutes in, and the solid but soft drums enter, propelling this acknowledgment of all of life's inevitable endings to a climax that would close most albums. And then it gets better. Seventeen concerns obsession, and is set against a backdrop of piano, fluttering mandolin and the crackles of a log fire. A musical saw shivers on Heatherbend, and elsewhere there is the harmophone, the spinette, lots of space, and a great deal of tension. We get to consider the fears of ageing and death, the feeling of being trapped in time, the effects of rejection, the precious moments of childhood friendships during times of violence at home, and the rape of indigenous peoples. Despite the weight of lyrical burden, the album is a blissful listen from first note to last. It has imperfections, but they make it all the more charming. Standouts are New Deal and Fire Away, the vocal delivery on each verging on transcendent. I must have a pop at the band name, mind. I get the point, but it's like stapling a target to your face for the more cynical observer out there. I've a wee grudge against the album title too ?? more suited to Jethro Tull, I feel ?? so quaint as to be frightening. A fantastic record though, that any lover of quality Miserycore will adore. Acquire without delay.

Tom Sheriff
CWAS #7 - Spring 2001