Four years on from Thamesis, the London septet return with an album that take its title from Gerard Manley-Hopkins’ invented word for the lances of sunlight that pierce a woodland canopy. Fronted as ever by German-born mezzosoprano Manuella Schuette with co-founded and producer Ged Flood providing the bulk of the instrumentation (including saz baglama, a sort of Turkish bouzouki) and the material, it is, once again, a beguiling skewed take on folk music. That said, Shivelight actually opens in fairly traditional mode with yet another version of the folk staple ‘The Cuckoo’, albeit with a strong percussive hypnotic march rhythm edge, Laurel Pardue on wailing fiddle and an eastern European flavour. It’s followed by yet another traditional recasting in ‘Queen May’, a hazed rework of the ‘Down In Yon Forest’ carol that gets a rippling electronica sheen, loops and a new refrain.
Chiming with the celebration of nature evinced in the album title, ‘Nature Waking’ stems from a period of post-trauma recovery for Flood, who takes breathily sung lead vocals, and, built around a nimble bluesy fingerpicked guitar riff and the clatteringly urgent drum rhythm, draws on a sense of heightened awareness of the natural world, taking on an almost improvisational feel as it gathers to a close. Massimi Troiano’s bass provided the spine for another environment-themed track, ‘Fishes’, written from a post-eco apocalypse perspective that’s bolstered by some further eastern colours from Pardue.
A different form of crisis informs ‘Jonny’s War’, an atmospheric, ethereal ambience enveloping the descending chords as electronics, Andrew Sleightholme’s piano and the soaring vocals address struggles with depression, the clock quite literally ticking away at the end.
There’s something appropriately unsettling and disturbing about ‘Jesus’ Crooked Shadow’, both in its nervy instrumentation and arrangement with its jittery Eastern European and Arabic percussive rhythmic patterns and Shuette’s operatic vocals and in lyrics which, inspired by the plight of families in children in the Middle East, talk of a “Little girl playin’ in the graveyard again…Broken souls diggin’ too many graves”, the opening “Are ô” being an African tribal chant and the chorus refrain, “Timendi causa est nescire”, taken from the Roman Stoic philosopher Seneca, translating as “Ignorance is the cause of fear”.
The second number on which Flood sings lead has another personal backdrop, the hypnotic pulsing, dark-cabaret styled ‘Three Cries’ being an account of his mother’s imprisonment in Dublin’s Mountjoy Prison for distributing ‘Free Ireland’ leaflets in O’Connell Street, the songs melding suitably enough into ‘The Auld Triangle’, a song about how jailers gained prisoners attention by jangling a triangular-shaped iron bar written by the song written by Dicky Shannon for Brendan Beehan’s 1954 play The Quare Fellow.
The musical mood return to the east for the penultimate ‘When Summers Stood Still’, Flood playing charango and Pardue’s strings sweeping across a song inspired by Flood’s memories of childhood summers but also with an eco-warning undercurrent. That also holds true of the album’s 90-second closer, “Nursery Rhyme No.9”, a breezy ditty about the bees, flowers and birds written for a pre-school ukulele class (though played here on mandolin) that bows out with the question “Wonder what will happen to the human race?“. Quite possibly promoting “mummy, what’s an extinction event” questions over the fish fingers.
Experimental and adventurous, but still hugely accessible, you really should let its rays bring illumination to your musical woodland paths.
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Artist’s website: http://www.mishapedpearls.org
‘Fishes’ – official video: