Wildbirds and Peacedrums
It's easy to think that music made by relatively few people, with relatively familiar instruments, should fall under the canopy of "folk": uncluttered, transparent, linked to past traditions. Wildbirds and Peacedrums-- husband-and-wife Swedes Andreas Werliin and Mariam Wallentin-- compose most of their debut, Heartcore, with Werliin's compact drum work and Wallentin's orbital, precise vocals; there is an arc to their work that imbues it with the austerity and heartiness (no pun) of folk music. Despite its simple ingredients, Heartcore is neither native nor instinctual. "Primal" or "sparse" miss the point, too; Heartcore, instead, is cleverly orchestrated pop music preternaturally reliant on the skills of its performers: Both Werliin and Wallentin were music school dropouts, and their technically sound playing disguises the complexity and range of Heartcore's material.
The album Heartcore strangely resembles is Nina Simone's In Concert; where Simone used tactful playing and sly phrasing to redress Gershwin or a song about pirates, W&P build murder ballads with tinny, metronomic percussion and tense rock'n'roll with handclaps and double-tracked wails. Other instruments-- electric piano, rippling guitar, moony organ-- are in the mix as ornamentation: Only the drums are allowed to roll downhill. Wallentin mimics Simone's deep, mannish voice and almost asexual engagement with her material but oversell/rhetoric aside she rightfully garners comparisons to Björk's bluster or Joanna Newsom's clench. (Another contemporary: The first line in "Bird" is actually "I am a bird now.") Wallentin's legit pipes carry Heartcore's swirling, clackety uptempo numbers: "Doubt/Hope", "The Way Things Go", and "The Ones That Should Save Me Get Me Down" rely on little more than Werliin's tethered kitwork. Doubt is a theme whenever the lyrics seem autobiographical, to the point where "The Way Things Go" serves as proper self-help: "I neeeeeed/ To love myseeeeelf/ More."
Werliin steps from behind his kit to duet on the violent "The Battle in Water" and his comparatively untrained male vox sounds phantasmal: "I am in the wilderness/ You turned out my light/ This time I will make things right/ I get cold by fire/ She said…" and then Wallentin again, "Let me swim/ I'm no one's pet." W&P may have overplayed their hand a bit naming the album Heartcore, but they deserve credit for these resonant, personal dramas.
The instrumental framing of the album allows the W&P plenty of elbow room, but Heartcore still fails when the duo becomes overly reliant on balladry: Whatever percussion/string instrument plinks along with "Lost Love" can't draw a melody out of Wallentin; "Nakina"'s buttressed bass kicks are the only arrangement that might be called out as lazy, and both move at a glacial pace.
During "Mississippi Goddam" Nina Simone exclaims, to the delight of the crowd, "This is a showtune, but the show hasn't been written for it yet"; Heartcore exemplifies this sense of constructed intrigue: Wallentin notes, "All of the people are running to the theater." Peek, too, at the resplendent closer, "We Hold Each Other Song", tipping its cards in two movements: first a low-hum organ dirge and then a loving, jaunty coda. "The inside is not new," Wallentin states. True, but what Werliin and Wallentin surround it with requires plenty of exploration.
-Andrew Gaerig, June 02, 2008
Upcoming US tour dates:
06/10 Brooklyn, NY @ Union Hall
06/12 Washington, DC @ HOS
06/15 New York, NY @ Joes Pub
06/17 Rochester NY @ Rochester Jazz Festival
06/18 Brooklyn, NY @ Union Hall
06/20 Brooklyn, NY @ Coco 66