After releasing their debut album, Heartland, through Yorkshire’s own The Leaf Label to widespread acclaim in 2007, Swedish husband-and-wife duo Mariam Wallentin and Andreas Werliin jumped straight in at the deep end with a follow up the next year. Their sound is raw, primitive; there is nothing of The White Stripes here. Maintaining the stripped-down feel of Heartland, second album The Snake builds evermore layers of complexity onto the basic vocals and percussion set-up, bringing in glockenspiel, marimba, flute and hosts of other tinking, twinkling other-worldly sounds. The landscape of The Snake is a frenetic and turbulent one, with Wallentin’s vocals meandering deftly through a veritable helter-skelter of styles and octaves; one moment her voice is as deep and powerful as Nina Simone’s, or a jazzier PJ Harvey; the next, it takes on a fragile tone more akin to the fragile warbles of Anthony Hegarty or Baby Dee. All the while Werliin’s ‘peacedrums’ are pounding rhythmically in the background, tribal and animalistic, as Wallentin guides us through their fairy tale wilderness. Live, they are a sight to behold, with shrieks and smashes melding together in a crashing chaos of complexity.
First single ‘There is no Light’ is a prime example of this controlled chaos, an anguished, churning mess of a song; but these raucous numbers are punctuated by slower, delicate tracks such as ‘So Soft So Pink’, which sounds exactly as one would expect from the name, with soft drums and tinkling cymbal crashes built around vocals as understated and brittle as glass.
Listening to the album, you get the impression that vocals and drums are each telling their own, distinct stories throughout, stories which complement and interlace with each other but which are individual narratives, each with their own directions. It is this complimenting of two different narratives and their interdependence that is so powerful, something which they seem acutely aware of themselves; in wrenching album closer ‘My Heart’, Wallentin’s yearning cries of “you see I’m lost without your rhythm” cannot help but be taken as a passionate and inspired homage to her band mate and husband, Werliin. This is music built around the ampersand of their band name; they are very much two discrete parts, but each without the other is lost.
Also over at Leeds Music Scene.