To adopt an impenetrable defence to life’s toughest tests can be a dangerous thing. So as not to lose sight of yourself or become crushed by the weight of it all, there is sometimes a need to let in a little darkness to help you appreciate the light. This search for darkness applies literally and metaphorically to Swiss songwriter Janine Cathrein a.k.a. Black Sea Dahu. Her new EP No Fire in the Sand was recorded in the starkly beautiful yet remote Ginske, Norway, at a time of year when there was little more than two hours of darkness a day. A resultant sleepless delirium and sweated fervour swoops into the recordings as Cathrein battles the insomnia inducing analysis of failed relationships, grasping at the hope of finding a universal suture for open wounds.
On ‘Demian’, Cathrein sings “I’ve opened all the gates…letting in all the agony that I could find”, as if longing for a darkness within which to collect her thoughts, to find the peace necessary to move forward. ‘Demian’ itself is a folk-rock hymnal, prodding at a sleeping menace. The vocal line carries the same refracted longing of Jeff Buckley as the track dies only to be reborn as a crushing slab of post-rock.
Elsewhere, as on the outstanding ‘How You Swallowed Your Anger’, the noise subsides allowing Cathrein’s songwriting to shine through. Accompanied by little more than an acoustic guitar, accordion and backing vocals, it is a heart-breaking message of guarded reticence to re-live past pains (“I can’t give anything back / I’m so sorry but I swore by my mother / That I wouldn’t believe in love”). Despite its sorrowful content, there is a sun-kissed hope in the lilting interplay of the voices that provides a cooling mist, framing the moments of days you hope will never end.
Throughout No Fire in the Sand, there is an uncultivated wilderness, lyrics fraught with the devastating power of nature to mirror our own personal battles. There is also a determination to plough headlong into the coming storm (“Give me those big waves I’ve always been scared of / I don’t hesitate anymore” – ‘No Fire in the Sand’), a wisdom that comes with knowing answers will only be found in facing harsh truths.
Janine Cathrein shows a fearlessness on No Fire in the Sand. As the lull of her gentle folk laps against the shore of gargantuan landscapes of noise and experimentation, she frees herself to carve out her own space. Held within the shadows of these five tracks is the simmering beauty of something very special indeed.
No Fire in the Sand is out now on Mouthwatering Records