Close knit sibling harmonies from the antipodean sisters weave more ethereal magic on the third offering from Charm Of Finches
Release date: 22nd October 2021
Label: AntiFragile Music
From the standpoint of the pandemic, Australia is about as far away as it has ever been. Which is perhaps how the undeniable, um, charm of Charm Of Finches, the gothic folk-noir duo of sisters, Mabel and Ivy Windred-Wornes, maybe passed previously under our ATB radar. Be that as it may, even a day or a few late, there is still plenty of time to make up for that oversight. With names that even sound they have come from a Victorian pot-boiler of a novel, and an image that similarly fits a steampunk Whitby, they have built a steady rep back in their homeland. Almost impossibly young for this to be their third album, with Mabel barely into her 20s, and Ivy still a couple of years shy, this is on the back of being brought up in a musical household, busking and playing festivals from an early age. In 2019, their second album, Your Company, won the Australian Independent Music Awards gong for best folk/singer-songwriter album. Between them proficient on Celtic-hued fiddle and cello, it is their harmonising that is most striking, a whispery sirens’s call, over a backing that calls in influences from as varied as Agnes Obel and Sufjan Stevens. They tour the UK next year.
So why the name? Given the preponderance of the genus in Australia, and that finches en masse are called a charm, it is a marker of the love for the visual the sisters embrace. Alongside musicians, they cite the films of filmmakers like David Lynch and Peter Greenway as being equally inspirational to their writing and performance. Could it equally have been Parcel Of Linnets or Chime Of Wrens? Or even Trembling Of Finches, another term used, and more familiar in the UK? I raise this digression if only to point out the contrast between these images and the darkness, often, of their lyrics, darkness being more to their metier than light, melancholy over joy. But, as I said, a digression; what do they sound like?
Concentrate On Breathing kicks off a little like a double-tracked Kate Bush, ahead of cantering off into a lurching western outback swagger, their paired vocals in some contrast to the backing. Producer Daniel Ledwell then conjures up some maraiachiesque horns, completing a disconcerting connection between the three seemingly disparate styles. A beguiling start that, I think, references the visions that can stalk the darkness. Heady stuff. This then leads into the jittery Gravity, lots of pizzicato and a narrative around best-laid plans and what happens. Covid? Like a smiling death, the sisters convey the difficulty in a cold and unforgiving beauty.
Heavy with its After the Gold Rush piano, is another build into a soaring chorus, the link to Agnes Obel now apparent. The piano, as is the bass and most of the percussion, like the brass in the opener, is all Gladwell. The first almost conventional song is then provided by Pockets Of Stones, if sticking to the disconcerting lyrically. A reverie on floating and not sinking, when you make the effort of emptying your pocket of stones, it is a metaphor for hope, The Australian of their accents is here to the fore, and definitely part of the allure. There then comes the disarming realisation that the wisdom of As A Child comes from a duo scarcely that much of a step away from childhood themselves. Glockenspiel is here used to good effect, one of the instruments, alongside banjo, that Ivy is drawn to, she otherwise being the fiddle player.
‘Miranda’ is as delicate an example of chamber folk as you can get, plucked guitar, bowed strings, the gentle cooing of the sisters. Absolutely captivating until the subject matter unfurls. This has roots in long distant sibling ballads from the annals of trad. arr. No spoilers, but does she? To help you recover comes a stately reverie on childhood and the regret of losing that state: “Would it be wrong to call this grieving, losing someone who is still breathing“. The vocals drift into echolalia under some penetrating high notes on an instrument I can’t quite identify. I found myself unable to stop myself coming back to this song time and time again.
Augmented by the viola of Indyana Kipping, the girls go the full strings, another achingly sombre tune, plucked harp, Ledwell again, dipping in and out behind the baroque ambience. Tempting as it is to hear their voices as instrumentation, once more the lyrics show the pain beneath the calm, it being a song of loss, this time of a childhood friend. Do they do any jolly, I hear you ask. The answer is perhaps all too apparent by now, but Canyon is a bit more upbeat and hopeful. Cheerful, even, the song redolent of the earlier, more haunted side of Paul Simon’s canon, but with two Garfunkels at the helm. Albeit with a definite Melbourne twang.
The final song, the title song, is preceded by the brief instrumental shimmer of Into The Well, which sets the eerie scene. Wonderful Oblivion? Well, let’s say it is a musing on what happens next, but with an optimistic nihilism that is as soothing as it is unsettling, particularly as the backing drops away, leaving only their voices.
This is a truly remarkable record and one to fill the silences of the night with. Maybe not one for a party, unless for one, for when you mood needs feeding. Yet, strangely, it isn’t depressing, even as it packs more than its punch of pensive woe. This is music of a joyful desolation and it lingers long past its listening.
UK Tour dates for 2022:
23/4/22 – Quaker House, Oxford
24/4/22 – The Hive, Shrewsbury
26/4/22 – Wardrobe, Bristol
27/4/22 – The Greystones, Sheffield
28/4/22 – The Glad Café, Glasgow
29/4/22 – Hyde Park Book Club, Leeds
30/4/22 – The Met, Bury
3/5/22 – The Musician, Leicester
4/5/22 – Kitchen Garden Café, Birmingham
5/5/22 – Stables 2, Milton Keynes
6/5/22 – Green Note, London
7/5/22 – Pound Arts, Corsham
8/5/22 – Whitstable Sessions Music Club, Whitstable