REVIEW by David Kidman, of fRoots magazine
Rebsie Fairholm - Seven Star Green (Sonic Spongecake)
The cryptically-titled Seven Star Green is a real sit-up-and-take-notice gem which has landed on my desk out of nowhere. This latest (second) release from somewhat reclusive English psych-folk artist Rebsie sometimes seems so wilfully weird (even mildly intimidating, especially on first acquaintance) that it might stem less from the “cornfield edge” of psych-folk that she professes to inhabit than from the alien crop circles within.
But challenge is a good thing of course. No two tracks sound alike, for Rebsie effectively raises two fingers to genres (and listener expectations); yet the album’s unity is provided by Rebsie’s haunting, mesmerising singing voice - ethereal and breathy but solid-textured (a hint of Hope Sandoval perhaps), at once soothing and disturbing. It’s couched in compelling, and sometimes quite radical, musical settings that form a well-defined presence: a purposeful ambience that can’t be tagged merely ambient. Textures (created in collaboration with Rebsie’s “alchymical muse” Daniel Staniforth) are both adventurous and sophisticated, layers carefully nurtured from a slew of “synths and midi instruments”, cello and assorted guitars (acoustic, classical, electric) yet neither swamping nor compromising the vocal input.
The disc’s opening and closing salvos are outstanding, beginning with The Cursing Song (from the pen of R.J. Stewart), a sinister incantation set to a richly stately chordal pulse with sparky, exotic touches. This is followed by Rebsie’s atmosphere-drenched, sombrely gull-bedecked rendition of Our Captain Cried (the first of the disc’s six distinctively visionary interpretations of traditional songs). The closing bookend is a powerfully dark triptych: a compulsively dramatic tribal-trance take on The Bitter Withy with a spine-tinglingly eerie tintinnabulating coda, leading to the intensely fragile, emotionally charged pleading of From A Coffin (by Rebsie’s songwriting friend Miriena Jayne) and closing with Lyke Wake Dirge – here a sweeping processional through the Imagined Village accompanied by distorted electronic ghosts (and a completely different treatment to the pastoral one on the recent Owl Service EP The Bitter Night, to which Rebsie contributed vocals).
Between those extremities, there’s a lush Let No Man Steal Your Thyme (illustrating Rebsie’s “impulsive creation of orchestrated folksong”), an exquisitely delicate guitar-and-cello-flecked Perigee Organdie (replete with hushed poetic imagery), and a flawlessly harmonised rendition (in French) of a 16th century Pavane, after which a chilling (post-holocaust?) version of Minstrel Boy brings discordant synth drones, treated vocals and dramatic percussion effects, capped by a blistering, swirling prog guitar solo (Dick Langford).
Rebsie also tosses us unsuspecting listeners a couple of serious curveballs, in the form of her own Molotov Spongecake (an ominously edgy Magazine-Eurhythmic-style confection set to a slow-chugging B52s riff) and a (priceless) breezy electropop jingle in praise (honestly!) of the Central Line penned by London-based beat poet Praveen Manghani. All in all, a proudly, determinedly wayward yet often startlingly original record: one that won’t prove at all easy to ignore should it come your way.
David Kidman December 2009