Over the last twenty years, few have embraced experimental rock with such exuberance as the Scandinavians. Norway’s Sacred Harp are relative newcomers to the scene but they have produced a startling debut which carries on a fine tradition.
The captain of this otherwordly ship is Jessica Sligter, whose vocals resemble a strange hybrid of Mercury Rev’s Jonathan Donahue and Portishead’s Beth Gibbons. Initially the effect is quite disorientating. ‘Found In The Open Country’ is the definition of off-key with both the wonky instruments and the wavering vocal likely to confuse rather than charm. Similarly, ‘Florida Lights’ begins like a tender valediction but its heavy metal riffs threaten to undermine an otherwise fabulous song.
It takes a while to adjust to the ways of The Sacred Harp but their music proves eventually seductive. The gentle ‘Julie’ is followed by ‘Melato’; a track which provides the answer for those the asked the question: how would Karen Carpenter have sounded performing in an art-rock outfit? Sligter controls the melody for ‘Birds Of Winter’ and wails like an unhinged little girl for the deliciously strange and harrowing ‘Horses For Sophia’.
However, the talents of Sacred Harp are not restricted to their frontwoman; the band are up to the challenge of conjuring up original arrangements every step of the way. There will be great albums released every year but few will be as unique as this one.
Mew, Mercury Rev, Portishead