Jess Randall’s screeching violin kicks off Countess Bathory’s Finishing School For Girls before being accompanied by Joel Gould’s frantic drumming transforming the tune into a raucous, energetic klezmer-like tune with nods to Flight of the Bumblebee, it segues into a rather groovy folk swagger as Gordon Wallace’s guitar creeps out of the woodwork. It’s an assured, toe-tapping, head-nodding start to this record that instantly holds the attention.
The Ruination of Junkyard Joe continues along a similar bent, starting breezy and blustery before settling into jauniter furrows, Jess’ violin a fine, evocative centrepiece for the laidback rhythms to wrap themselves around. Joe delivers a croaky vocal over Mark Stevens’ ambling, carefree double bass before the track erupts into a frenetic and lively finale. Clockwork Bride is partially a variant on a traditional Romanian melody, though it begins with a strutting drum-line and moody guitars before Jess’ violin pierces the cool with its chattering, hyperactive buzz, a nifty counterpoint that coalesces through twitchy choruses before settling back into that snappy shuffle, the violin scratching at the edges eager to dive back in and it builds with edgy, abrasive energy. Coming to a clattering, peculiar and sinsister climax like Bernard Hermann conducting a barn dance, it’s a dizzying hybrid of skew-wiff body moving melodies and psychotic lunges.
The Crooked Fiddle Band are an Australian quartet whose imaginative and energetic music has brought them considerable attention, this record was engineered by Nirvana‘s Steve Albini.
All These Pitchforks Make Me Nervous is like a mosh-pit in a spook house, a jug band coming up on something terrifying, the playing rising with ever increasing tempo before sliding into woozy tumbles that retain some semblence of co-ordination, funky guitar licks sneaking out from behind the violin which sashays dangerously close to collapse. Meanwhile The Mountain Hag’s Advice begins like a folk apocalypse before keened, ominous vocals grumble over Gould’s mounting drums, Jess lending an operatic voice over sinister strings, sounding like siren song, it’s alluring yet feels like a warning. Sure enough her voice is soon replaced for panicked, agonised howls of terror and terrified, insistent instrumentation before Jess’ vocal returns beckoning the next foolish adventurer into her claws.
Fortunately along comes the mellower tones of Beneath Ash and Ocean a cautious yet optimistic track where everyone seems to take an audible breath, its dew-eyed and hopeful, like little cute fluffy animals peeking their heads out after a terrible storm, yet laced with a wry and cheeky note of the worst not being over yet. It’s followed by the more stately Over Hill and Under Hill which feels like the work of composer Mychael Danna with its elegant, folk leanings, it practically projects images of characters traverse beautiful moutainous landscapes. From the slow steady beginning the track rises with joyful spirit, strings and drums building towards something momentous, but with a wry smirk it suddenly cuts short and the tune changes, with Gould’s staccato drumming into something almost Math-Rock.
This debut LP closes with the epic 14 minute What The Thunder Said, starting meekly with a few plucked strings, quickly the violin is joined by guitar and charango, each playing around with a similar melody, the lines interweaving, intersecting and contrasting beautifully and rising with intensity as the track wears on. Once Gould’s drum joins the mix things become more pensive for a few beats before a jangling guitar line nudges things into more anarchic territory and eventually Jess’ violin begins wailing once more whilst the drums hammer insistently. Oddly, despite the large canvas on which to ebb and flow the track feels like it’s lacking something in comparison to the shorter songs on this album, given the room to breathe the changes in style feel more like a medley of ideas rather than one cohesive whole that consistently surprises, it even seems somewhat predictable at times. It draws to a sombre close with Jess’ vocal and the sound of snow shovelling.
Overall this is a brilliant, exhilirating and unique sounding record, it’s highly evocative and energising with ideas to spare. There are a few moments here and there where the band seem to be employing the same tricks over again and the finale, for all its grand potential, doesn’t play out quite how one would hope after the anticipation of the preceding seven tracks. Nonetheless, this is definitely one of the best records I’ve heard this year.