Roc/Full Time Hobby)
tuneful, caught between stark simplicity and over-the-top electronic excess, Nightingale is to folk music what the
movie Edward Scissorhands was to
fairytales. That is to say, it is fey and pale and full of shadowy
uncertainties, yet also, when it wishes to be, sublimely, tunefully pop.
makes sense since equal helpings of folk simplicity and Brit Pop romanticism
went into Erland and the Carnival’s pedigree. The band started as a
collaboration between Orkney-born songwriter Erland Cooper and Verve guitarist
Simon Tong (Tong is also in the Good the Bad and the Queen and has done stints
with Blur). The two met at a London
folk night that Tong curates and bonded over a shared love of Jackson C. Frank
(whose “My Name Is Carnival” appeared on their first album). With Orb drummer and sometime Paul
McCartney sideman David Nock, they released a UK-only debut in 2010. The highlights
from that album — though not the album itself — later made it to the U.S.
in the form of the Trouble in Mind EP.
The title track, with its bittersweet-yet-bouncy keyboard line, its pensive but
hummable chorus (“I didn’t mean to disappoint you/I’m just sorry that I
had to”), was one of the year’s best songs.
Nightingale lacks such an obvious
focal point, but it is far from disappointing. Its textures seem both gauzier
and more complicated, as layers of pop and folk sounds co-exist uneasily in
songs that are never as simple as they seem. “Map of an Englishman,”
the first single, pits the spectral hum of keyboards against straight-up
Nuggets-psyche guitars, in a mix that unsettles even as it bubbles up with
euphoria. That unstable mix of sing-along pop and freaky electronic effects
gets even more pronounced in the first instrumental bridge, where indefinite
auras of distortion ooze over perky flourishes of keyboard. It’s followed by
“Emmeline,” one of the prettiest, and spookiest of these tracks, all
white-gauzed visitations by unquiet, undead keyboards.
is just a starting point for most of these songs, which either blossom quietly
(“Springtime”) or burst more wildly into hedonistic excess
(“Nightingale”). A delicate, folk-influenced melody may lurk
somewhere in all of the cuts, usually most obviously at the beginning, but
these fragile foundations are soon swamped by masses of obscure keyboard
sounds, odd, insistent percussion and rock-psychedelic guitars.
Nightingale seems like a step
sideways for Erland and the Carnival, perhaps an early, not-quite-final attempt
at going beyond Trouble in Mind‘s
simpler, immediately gripping aesthetic. A bit overdone in spots, arrestingly
conflicted in others, it may be a work in progress, but the progress itself is
worth listening to.
DOWNLOAD: “Map of an Englishman,”
“Emmeline” JENNIFER KELLY