Wednesday, May 16, 2007

Enter a Special World

Brief Intro: This blog is to serve as my own personal dump of music and radio information/media as experienced through WXYC Chapel Hill, 89.3 FM. Expect downloads of highlights from my weekly radio program, semi-lengthy reviews, and gratuitous nonsense. My new show, Hostile Gospel, airs every Wednesday night from 10pm-Midnight. Listen live at

First up, a review of Jakob Olausson's new record on De Stijl.

Artist: Jakob Olausson
Album: Moonlight Farm
Label: De Stijl

Sitting on a front porch, breathing in a drenched Saturday evening seems a proper setting to engage with the personal dictations featured on Jakob Olausson’s Moonlight Farm. Alone, listening to the North Carolina downpour, I find strange comfort in Olausson’s musings, drifting in shaky confidence but compelling in their lonesome beauty. There’s an air of solemn independence that permeates the downtrodden delivery of the Swedish folkster's double-tracked vocals. His perspective is one tied to the land, hardened by the day’s work but still possessing a sad romance, a tendency to dream briefly before drifting to sleep.

Originally a sugar beet farmer, Olausson's background provides a proper testimony for his earthly tunes. He's a relatively fresh face to the acid folk scene, previously releasing sprawling psych jams under the moniker Joshua Jugband 5. Originally available through LPs offered on a Scandinavian tour in 2005, De Stijl has finally made Olausson's debut full-length widely available in CD format. Here, his violin and guitar duets weave charming melodies that meander through a haze of twanging electricity; gentle shakers and slothful cymbal vibrations create a warm but shadowy feel, comforting yet oddly alienating.

Olausson’s sound has peers in the New England psych-folk scene, especially in the output of Matt Valentine and Dan Ireton (a.k.a. MV and Dredd Foole respectively). His monotonous vocal style is reminiscent of Iretons’s acid echoes, especially in the track “Napalm Sky” – hauntingly deep and hovering over the surrounding lilt. He also conjures the hallucinatory free-blues of Valentine through the distorted hum of his electric guitar, blending the intensity of the instrument with his vocal warbles. But whereas his Northeastern contemporaries (and his previous Jugband output) tend to wander stoned through lengthy jams, Olausson keeps focus on Moonlight Farm, letting the tracks breathe and expand but collapsing them into digestible pieces.

There are nods to the San Francisco side of things as well. Six Organs of Admittance main man and all-around psych star Ben Chasney was quoted in praise of Moonlight Farm, envious of Olausson’s droning acoustics. The sound here recalls Chasney’s more plugged-in work, where dulled, disorienting roar meets tranquil meditation. The acoustic shuffle and sing-song guitar melody of “At the Citadel” brings to mind the breezy California twang of Skygreen Leopards, but played under a shining Swedish moon.

Despite these comparisons, Olausson still presents a vibe that is all his own. His music comes from a different context, with a different feel. His songs are genuine artifacts of personal toil rendered with regard to folk structures, but achieve freedom in their somber sincerity. “Sihouette V” is about owning up to responsibilities even in the most depressing of contexts, sung from the perspective of a tired beet farmer staring sternly into the cold eyes of reality. Such a staunch outlook is a refreshing testimony to the hard-working family man, the wayward traveler, and even a fitting soundtrack for a lonesome front-porch listener.

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