Based in London with Iraqi and Belarusian heritage, ordained as a Buddhist nun and with a strong interest in (self-)psychoanalysis, Perlin learnt cello when she was five, discovered fingerpicking guitar via bossa nova, taught herself piano and started singing at the age of ten. Exploring themes that include family roots, identity, relationships, mental health, self-reflection and as per the title, the different characters that make up who she is, Characters is her impressive second album, drawing on such influences as Zero 7, Laura Marling and Erykah Badu with instrumentation that include upright bass, saxophone and string trio.
It opens with the choppy guitar pattern and strings of ‘Slowly Unfold’, a softly sung number that, in describing a woman who paints her different aspects, serves as a metaphor for creativity as a means to communicating the unconscious self and the freedom it brings. From here she delves into her 90s childhood in a house surrounded by woods with the dappled fingerpicking , metronomic rhythm and overlaid vocals of the five-minute ‘Back In Time’, a song that, inspired by Richard Louv’s Last Child in the Woods, addresses the value and nature of children’s play and the way it has changed over the generations from a time when “We lived with an innocent rage” and playing outside was the norm.
Some years ago, Perlin spent long spells in and out of hospital being treated for a flare up of an autoimmune disease, and it is from that that, a strings-coloured jazz-folk-soul sway ‘Hold Up Your Head Child’ emerged as a hope for better times (“hold up your head child, this will pass”).
Opening with classical-toned strings, the airily drifting ‘Baghdad’ very specifically speaks to the Jewish Baghdadi side of the family, written as an exploration of her heritage (“She took a spade, oh she’s digging away/Through the sand with the hope that she’ll find a new land”) and her family’s journey as she sings of her grandmother and her family’s stories, real and imagined, of “a life lived in Baghdad collecting new things” and how “She imagined the mountains, her favourite sweets She dreamt of her father who said she was brave/Those dark brown eyes, those war torn feet”.
As the title suggests, harmonising with herself, the quietly strummed, strings-brushed dreamy sway ‘Words’ focuses on communication and/or the inability to often say what we want or to understand the words that are spoken (“Sometimes I listen but sometimes I don’t…. Scream with your eyes but your words can’t get through”). Several of the songs involve memory, and its sensory memory that underpins the rippling guitar rhythm and tick tocking beat of ‘Pine’, drawing on times spent among pine trees in France as a child, and the sense of comfort or longing the smell evokes (“I was once a tree/Feet in the soil/No one dared to hurt me”) as times pass and change.
Characters draws to an end with, first, the watery scampering guitar textures of ‘Blue Is The Colour’, a number about relationships with family (“Blue is the colour that reminds me of my mother when she touched my skin… Red is the colour that reminds me of my father when he taught me to scream”), other people and to self, using the symbol of growing roots and having them taken away to speak of identity and a disconnection from nature. Finally comes.
‘Move Through The Waves’, played out on her first instrument, (electric) piano, and a soulful, sax-coloured Badu-esque ballad about the calming nature of late night solitude and a time to look inwards (“Move through the waves, to a place, you can think/Catch up with time, hold yourself so you don’t sink”) and to “Layer by layer unravel what muddiness means” and come to know and accept the different characters of which we are comprised “and simplify the outside”.
An album to listen to and immerse yourself in when there no distractions from the contemplation it encourages, given the different musical flavours perhaps contemporary nu-soul folk might be a convenient label, but however you approach it, it is clear evidence of an assured and blossoming talent.
Artist’s website: www.floperlin.com
‘Baghdad’ – official video: