By Sarah Bennett
By Adam Lovinus
By Jena Ardell
By Nate Jackson
By Gustavo Arellano
By Nick Keppler
By Nate Jackson
By Alex Distefano
Nearly everything about Wildbirds & Peacedrums is novel: an acoustic Swedish duo crafting songs from flickers and gurgles of vocals, percussion and uncommon instruments. But the band are no novelty. Last year’s Heartcore and new record The Snake are artful, transcendent meditations. Husband and wife Andreas Werliin and Mariam Wallentin met at the University of Gothenburg’s Academy of Music and Drama; although their music defies genres, they collected 2008’s Jazz In Sweden award.
Each song on The Snake is a strange journey. Opener “Island” sees Wallentin intone each word so slowly that it sounds like another language. Set against low moans at once solemn and playful, it’s a cappella worthy of Björk’s Medulla. Werliin’s drums come in on “There Will Be No Light,” a bluesy, deconstructive romp with lots of open space. Wallentin sputters and whoops as if in an animalistic state, but there’s a convincing desperation, even when she’s bordering on scat. In other instances, her singing halts, quakes and nears a tribal chant, possessing a creepy modulation similar to the Knife’s Karin Dreijer Andersson.
Though often called a vocal-drums combo, Wildbirds & Peacedrums incorporate much more. One might hear the zither-like Chinese instrument the guzheng, an actual zither, marimba, thumb piano, autoharp or santor, a Persian instrument. “So Soft So Pink” opens with what sounds like a blown-out harmonica, rattling noisily for the first minute before gentle percussion and singing emerge, while Werliin adopts an almost hip-hop beat on “Places.”
Amidst all this musical invention and reinvention are often delightfully simple lyrics. Wallentin finds her most pop moment singing, “You see I’m lost without your rhythm” on the seven-plus-minute single “My Heart,” as steel drum and backing vocals swarm behind her. Like many others on this bold album, it’s a moment of soul-cleansing beauty.