Orenda Fink returns, not long after her technologically experimental O+S project, with a solo record that grounds her firmly back in a world of acoustic instruments and evocative songwriting. “High Ground,” with its minor key orientation, purposeful picking (both mandolin and banjo, from the sound of it), and group vocals, unfolds with the offhand seriousness of a back-country folk song. The title, and the central metaphor therein, implies both threat and survival; Fink’s lovely, careful singing voice, is, by song’s end, all but swallowed by the vocal wave around her, but she keeps singing, and doesn’t raise her voice. And we still hear her, all the more so because we have to try.
“High Ground” is a track from Fink’s forthcoming album, Ask the Night, to be released next month on Saddle Creek Records. And the ever-active, prolific Fink has also been playing with Maria Taylor as Azure Ray again this summer; the word is that a new Azure Ray album is in the works for next year.
“Harold T. Wilkins” – Fanfarlo
Sparkly and quirky-poppy in a way that harkens back to early Talking Heads, “Harold T. Wilkins” shows off this London-based sextet’s capacity to turn its interest in historical obscurities into offbeat but engaging pop. (The band named itself after the poet Baudelaire’s one novella, so they’re serious about this stuff.) Wilkins was a British journalist who wrote on a number of subjects, including the paranormal; one specialty of his was researching ancient flying-saucer sightings. You won’t catch any of that from the song, however, in part because David Byrne-ish singer Simon Aurell sings in that way that lets you hear individual words more than complete sentences. You might wonder why a band would use specific, obscure references only to present in such a way as to keep them obscure, but it’s no different, really, from any song in which you can’t fully understand the lyrics. And I for one would rather encounter unintelligible lyrics about an obscure British writer (he also, it seems, reported on early TV experiments) than about another relationship gone bad.
The song’s full name is actually “Harold T. Wilkins, Or How To Wait For A Very Long Time,” and I’m feeling a strong sense of expectation throughout the song, produced first and foremost by that recurring mandolin motif in the verse–a short, cycling figure that doesn’t resolve as much as set us up for endless repetition. The chorus loses the mandolin and picks up an authoritative beat and some appealing melodic twists, and yet in the end fosters a renewed sense of anticipation via its unusual structure: it features six lyrical lines, following a rough AABBCC rhyme scheme, while the music offers an ABCDCD pattern. Which is to say it would have sounded finished after four lines; the extra two leave us less resolved as we glide back into waiting mode.
You’ll find this one on Reservoir, the band’s first full-length CD, which was self-released last month. MP3 via SXSW, where the band is playing this week, along with 700,000 others.