On Shipless ocean
Second album time from the Swedish Fruits-and-Dodo duo and, though it's scarcely "make or break" time, still they have a few questions to answer. Beginning with, how much of their own press do they believe? Every band, after all, is saddled with a lexicon of terms to which every writer is compelled to refer, and terms like "distorted," "aggressive," "nightmare" and "wired" are not at the top of the list.
But just a few minutes into the version of Kevin Ayers' "Lady Rachel" that devours half of side one's twenty minute playing time, and it's clear that neither Britt Ronnholm nor Anders Hakanson have any intention of playing to the peanut gallery.
Like the version of Bowie's "All the Madmen" that graced the back of their last 45, the challenge seems not to have been to cover the song, but to kidnap it as well. It's electrifying, not only in terms of Us and Them's own past accomplishments (which itself is a major achievement), but in relation to Ayers' original, too.
Twice the length and maybe twice as fast, there's a Madchester rhythm pattern around the careening Third Ear soundscapes, while Ronnholm shrugs away Ayers' gentle, caring questioning, and sounds positively, wildly gleeful. If music were a Batman comic, it's the difference between Bruce Wayne wishing you a goodnight and sweet dreams, and the Joker saying the same thing.
The lead up to the song is not too far removed from more traditional pastures. Well, not wholly. "The Trees and Sky Above" is lovely, pastoral... what else could it be with a title like that? But "From the Corner of my Eye" builds on murmured vocals and menace; and "A New Life" echoes with a darkening ennui that the opening lines have already prefaced - "no surprise who the murderer in my book will be." And behind Ronnholm all the way, a guitar pattern haunts like a metronome, while strings push in to polish its claws.
Side two keeps the pressure up - "Changes and Choices" and "People Like Us" are, respectively, blue moody lush and echo-fed sparse, while "Time" ticks like a wordless nursery rhyme, even after the vocals chime in.
"Extract from the 17th of November," however, makes you wonder precisely what the whole day looked like. Think "Careful With That Axe, Eugene," if a bunch of robots deleted all but the bass line... and then wonder why nobody thought to crossfade it into the album's other epic, the slow burning nine minute "Tail" - and, no matter how powerful the rest of the record, it's clear that this is what it was all building up to.
Indeed, it's almost an anti-climax when the CD continues for two songs more - "She's Not Me" and "We Are Not Alone"; placed elsewhere on the disc, their impact would have been far more pronounced. Absent from the vinyl, On Shipless Ocean might have ended, but it sails on in your mind regardless.
So, where does that leave Us and Them? Well, those questions were answered long ago, and the lexicon has no bearing on the band. Just as they have for ten years already, Us and Them continue to plough their own peculiar furrow, and you'll think twice before referring to them as psych-folk again. They're far more perfect than that.
On Shipless Ocean is the second full-length long-playing album by Swedish duo Us And Them and if you are familiar with their debut album, Summer Green And Autumn Brown, as you'd expect, it's a record laced with their unique brand of beautifully mellow Psychedelic Folk and gentle Folktronica. Britt Rönnholm, who sings, and Anders Håkanson, who plays the instruments, are masters of light and shade, ethereal translucent moments drift into rich dense textures, that evoke an autumnal stillness on a crystal-clear day. Delicate acoustic guitars are tempered by subtle electronica that adds a wash of modernity to a beguiling traditional Psychedelic Folk sound deeply inspired by the music of Sandy Denny, Donovan, Bert Jansch and Vashti Bunyan. With a limited edition 7" teaser for the album, 'From The Corner Of My Eye; due for release mid April, On Shipless Ocean will be the first full release of mainly original songs from Us And Them for quite a while.................'From The Corner Of My Eye' with the non album cut 'The Iron Maiden' on the flip is the perfect introduction to the new album with the previously sparse sound of Us And Them now filled out with beautiful string/woodwind arrangements and Mellotron. The single also comes with two non album bonus download tracks 'When Life Begins' and a beautiful cover of Bowie's 'All The Madmen'.
Since the release of Summer Green And Autumn Brown, which was possibly the most mellow record we have ever heard, Us And Them have spent studio time expanding their sound with lush textures............it's still jaw droppingly strange and beautiful but with with much more depth of sound. On Shipless Ocean gently ebbs and flows through 10 stunning tracks with the real highlights being the two exquisite near 10 minute long tracks where Us And Them really stretch out..............Imaginative cover versions of classic Psychedelia and Folk are Us And Them's thing and how they first caught the attention of the discerning music lover, closing side one there is a brilliant reworking of Kevin Ayers' 'Lady Rachel' where they slowly deconstruct the song and then reassemble it in a strange new form. Taking Kevin Ayers original classic track as a mere sketch, Us And Them twist the tune into something barely unrecognizable keeping just the bones of the song adding synth washes and hazy spoken word as 'Lady Rachel' evolves into swirling Folktronica. The epic, sprawling closing track on side two, 'Tail', is a mesmerizing pastoral Psych tune that echoes the early 70s twisted Folk of Shelagh McDonald with a lush expansive string/Mellotron arrangement building then slowly fading out in a buzz of electronics . Fans of the previous Us And Them releases will not be disappointed with On Shipless Ocean as it is packed with some of the most drop dead gorgeous songs you are going to hear this year, but there is now real substance to what where quite fragile songs on the previous LP. Like a brilliantly coloured butterfly escaping it's cocoon, Us And Them are changing from a stripped back Psych Folk/Folktronica duo into something with a much bigger sound that fully embraces their late 60s/early 70s influences but with one foot in the now..............and it's a truly intoxicating listening experience.
The wonderful Swedish folk rock duo returns with their second full length album. After a few releases for the Fruits de Mer label they have been picked up by Mega Dodo for this beautiful album. Britt's voice is like a honeyed Eartha Kitt and works to great effect throughout this album. I have nearly all of their previous releases and have followed their career since first hearing them on the Fruits De Mer 7"EP Summerisle, featuring four Wicker Man Songs being instantly hooked on their particular brand of hushed folk.
This new record builds upon their last full length one entitled "Summer Green And Autumn Brown which was released in 2015. The record kicks off with "The Trees And The Sky Above" a delicate filigree of a folk song with strong violin lines and stately appeggio electric guitar. "From The Corner Of My Eye" is an achingly beautiful organ led ballad, that reminds me of Vashti Bunyan at her most elegiac. "A New Life" moves along at a slow pace, the instruments framing Britt's exquisite vocals, a crepuscular ballad with nothing hurried, its glacial beauty slowly revealed and enhanced by light touches of electronica.
Kevin Ayres "Lady Rachel" slots right into this folktronica setting, synth washes and twinkles, gently strummed electric guitar, accompanied in places by very slight skittering beats and spoken word passages. Here it is rendered almost unrecognisable from the original. "Changes And Choices" continues the icy folktronica sound, lushly arranged, lifted by Mellotron, Britt's soft vocals framed by woodwind and various percussive sounds.
"People Like Us" is a pastoral musing upon the seasons, a delicate dreamy song that has a soporific effect, a soothing lullaby. "Time" builds slowly, the palette of instruments used to fine effect, creating an eerie softly intoned whirring song of rare beauty. "Extract From The 17th Of November" sees organ, electronica and percussion fusing together on a short instrumental. "Tail" rounds out the album, slowly building to a climax with choral washes. Instruments are gradually introduced, starting with acoustic guitar, adding Mellotron, violin, ebowed electric guitar and light percussion. An awakening and also like Lady Rachel over ten minutes long, a languid narcotic fugue which ends this beguiling album on a high. (Andrew Young)
Well, what can I say? I'm a fan, and I have be honest, there have been very few artists/bands I've listened to in recent years that have had quite the emotional effect on me that Britt and Anders have. Their music is quite simply some of the most beautiful I've heard. I can't help but be moved by it.
Strangely, 'On Shipless Ocean' took quite a few plays to appreciate though, but in a Zen-like enlightenment moment, it all started happening for me. 'I never looked back, and saw what we became' Britt sings in 'From The Corner Of My Eye'. Not so! To me this album is all about reflection, looking back, remembering, it's dripping in melancholy. Not in a 'I feel sorry for myself' way, no-one's looking for sympathy here. As I've said before about Us and Them, there's a strength to 'carry on' in the lyrics, but the past can be an emotional place, the passing of time and the changes we all go through may bring a little sadness now and then. This is what the songs 'On Shipless Ocean'mean to me. Very potent music, and in what seems like an age of disposable ditties, it's most welcome too.
The album grows more in feeling as it continues, with an early sign of what's to come with their version of the Kevin Ayers track 'Lady Rachel'. This clocks in at around ten minutes and has a sense of the epic about it. This is new territory for Us and Them and no minute is wasted in the arrangement either. A little later on, 'Time'lifts the mood of the album slightly with some interesting electronic effects, but then it's into the short instrumental 'Extract From The 17th November'which acts as a prelude of sorts to the album's closing and standout track 'Tail'. Yet another track of about ten minutes, but it's a deception, it doesn't feel like that long a song. You catch the flow and go with it, all the way. This is haunting. Ghosts are everywhere. Towards the end, a chorus of voices can be heard in what seems to be the beginning of the closing of the song, but no, Britt returns, a few more words, then she gently hums as the song then finally fades. This seems to last forever. Turn the volume up and it's another array of electronics that finally bring the song and album to a close. Talk about a slow fade. This song is a real achievement for Britt and Anders, to me their best so far. Let's see how they follow it.
A very classy album indeed, but remember to give it time.
Us And Them, are back* with their 2nd album which is scheduled for release mid-June 2018, through Mega Dodo Records. This Swedish Baroque-NeoFolk-Pop duo of Britt Rönnholm and Anders Håkanson made an album (11 songs, 52min in total) that flirts with various Folk sub-genres like Acid-Folk, Dreamy-Folk, Medieval-Folk, Psych-Folk, developing their unique brand of light psychedelized folk music. All songs show a great musicianship filled with artistic acoustic instrumentation dressed with superb female vocals. Oh, these vocals! This voice! Britt's voice combines and simultaneously emerges Nico's melancholy, Marianne Faithfull's fragileness, Sandy Denny's crystalline structure and Jacqui McShee's warmness!!! Pretty amazing, e? By now, you should have guessed the musical background that this album moves to, but in my humble opinion, this LP 'hides' 2 Magical, Superb, Brilliant and Unexpected surprises! The 9:37min "Tail", a psych-neo-folklore epic tune that can melt the inside of your brains by the first listening and the Shocking Sensational 10min trip "Lady Rachel". Yes, Kevin Ayers' "Lady Rachel", it's really unbelievable what they did to this already-amazing song. They moved further. A beauteous delicate electronically flavoured Psychedelic Folk Epos! Kevin would have been proud! For sure! Tim would be proud too... "Long afloat on shipless oceans / I did all my best to smile / 'til your singing eyes and fingers / Drew me loving to your isle"