Taking their name from the mythology of King Arthur and the Round Table saga, the tale in question one of death and rebirth, this emerging Brooklyn duo comprise Greek-born singer-guitarist Alexia Antoniou and multi-instrumentalist husband Mike O’Malley, their new six track EP, A Sleeping Place (the title inspired by the etymology of the Greek word for cemetery) underlining influences from literature and Greek mythology and songs she describes as a meditation on mortality vs. immortality, both melancholic and uplifting.
They kick off in energetic form with ‘The Dressmaker’, somewhere between Suzanne Vega and Victoria Williams, as, the lyrics tumbling out, Antoniou unfolds the tale of a woman in the 1800s who, when her husband takes, off has to build a new life for herself and her daughters, finding both an outlet for her frustrations and self-salvation through sewing, the intricately arranged track ending with an arpeggio in three different speeds featuring piano, clarinet, and flute.
More sedate with its fingerpicked guitar, bowed strings and tinkles, and the first of the Greek references, ‘Dionysus’ (“the god with bloodstains on his teeth”) tackles prescient feelings of anxiety (“I don’t wanna be in my mind”), moving along to the woodwind shaded ‘Bridget’, inspired by a walk through New York and the piano capturing the sun flickering over the river, the song couched as a letter penned a century before from a girl anxious not to worry the family left behind but also looking to find ease in her new home.
Taking the tempo back up, the rhythmically scampering ‘In My Dreams, A Perfect Chair’, again a kind of talk-sing delivery, woodwinds, keyboards and dampened drums mimicking hammers and sandpapering, wrapped around a story of a woodworker’s apprentice who feels inadequate because they can’t make anything good enough (“it’s looking pretty bad but I know I can make it worse”), but essentially about a lack of self-confidence that you can create something beautiful and you’ll always be the unhewn block of wood.
Returning to mythology, with its lapping rhythms and chirping woodwinds ‘Birds & Wine’ takes inspiration from Aphrodite as the song, which details a supplicant making a sacrifice, explores the connection between the goddess of love and the sea, though the lines “I took an interest from a young age/In certain smells, in certain chemicals/How they could melt upon the brain/Like a cut of honeycomb on the tongue” suggest a more contemporary resonance in what proves to be a song about making someone fall under her spell (“I can make you happy/I can make you beg for me/Come, come on and love me”).
A Sleeping Place ends with the most overtly autobiographical track, the gently swaying, hushed and dreamy ‘Fingers’, inspired by when her and then husband-to-be Mike could not get seats together on an airplane, and, she emotionally affected having just read Madeline Miller’s Song of Achilles, they silently arranged to meet in the toilets for a whispered conversation (“I will share my grave with you/As you have shared your bed with me”) as he consoled her.
Antoniou describes the EP as a love letter to anyone who has ever been alive and been scared to die. It goes gently into that good night.
Artists’ website: www.gawainandthegreenknightband.com
‘Birds & Wine’ – lyric video: