“But what if I arrive”; is this journey or destination? Be beguiled by this play of songs, cast in a chamber folk light by the literate duo of Nunnery Norheim.
Release Date: 15th September 2023
Label: Self-Released (Bandcamp)
Format: CD / Digital
If trumpet is your soft spot, this’ll reel you in like spring tide mackerel. But there is a lot more than trumpet to this accomplished duo, as any similarly hooked ears will discover. Probably folk, and marketed as such, this fits more the niche of adult mood music, using instrumentation and voice to manufacture sensitive vignettes of observation. Where sensitive don’t mean twee, let me add, fists in velvet gloves and all that. Lizzy Nunnery has the voice, and, as also a staged playwright, has the lyrical nous to gift well-chosen words to her sweet and sour vocal. Vidar Norheim is a Norwegian multi-instrumentalist, if now, like Nunnery, a Liverpudlian by adoption. Anyone remember Wave Machines, noughties scouse art-poppers? He drummed for them, now adding guitar, keys and vibraphone to his palette, as well as secondary vocals.
“All the dead cowboys” has to be one of the more startling lines to open an album, following a pastoral parp on the aforesaid trumpet, from Martin Smith, before going on to reference “all the lost spacemen”, and it becomes clear that lyrics are very important to these songs. The Wilds, which contains these lines, seems to be a paean to a lost, or maybe, mislaid, childhood. “If I could find a little peace, a little peace of mind, if I could find a little piece, a little piece of land” is the chorus and proves the worth of frontloading heavy the start of an album, so as to lure in the listener. The mix of brass and keyboards , strings and electronic FX, complement the slight sense of staginess about the vocal delivery and I’m in. The title track follows, and captures the link between Kate Bush and Annie Lennox in Nunnery’s vocal, the latter offset by Norheim’s additional sotto voce vocal in the chorus. This won’t be the first time the ghost of Eurythmics haunt this recording, the elements of this keyboard led song underpinned with the gusting sounds of wind in your hair.
This Old Town has a further theatrical feel, likely intended, there seeming to be a distinct theme, of journeys, running through the songs. A hymn to Liverpool, even if “this town won’t hold me now”. The electronic percussion is thoughtful rather than propulsive, a texture to play with, which, as the strings and synths build behind, as the vocal becomes a slow burning anthem flying above both. One even forgives the nagging hint of Coldplay’s Scientist in the key section, oddly adding rather than detracting. Don’t Fall Down has a singing double bass and muted brass, with the odd flourish of sequencer to cross any boundary of expectation, the minor key chorus becoming quite the airworm. That bass, with some saxophone and more bubbly synth carries the song forward into a near instrumental coda, possibly my highlight of the album.
Dream, with an ominous keyboard sound, becomes, slightly surprisingly, a bit of a upbeat ballad, if still undercut with the moodiness of the arrangement, which is perhaps all that prevents it becoming too clearly the centrepiece, slotted ahead the interval, of some Drury Lane musical. Don’t get me wrong, it is fine, but, with a differennt arrangement, it might prove overly sweet. And were that the case, Moving To The Sticks might definitely prove a step too far. A relentlessly jolly ditty, even with the exquisite string section, no matter how I try, I cannot shake off images of dancing characters on a stage, rictus grins to the fore. Finest Hours is then a bit of an overture in style, but steps back from the brink of the earlier song. Again it is the bass, Geth Griffith, that anchors it, with the touches of promised vibraphone an attractive additional tone.
Magical Times is all a shimmer, and, unbidded, I find myself imagining this in the hands of the Unthanks, perhaps courtesy the strings and brass. A somewhat majestic construction, this begins to see off the greasepaint permeations of before. Cut Up The Sky is then wonderfully gaunt, piano chords and voice, a song of foreboding: “there’ll be no going home in the morning”. Norheim adds further understated vocal accompaniment and it is a delightfully spooky lullaby. Mike Smith’s sax adds the closing spectral flourishes that are the frosting; on the window pane rather than the cake, I sense. Electronic percussion and chiming keyboards usher in the mantric list of I Saw The City, a list of word associative imaginings, which turns lullaby to dystopian nightmare, however affectionate to the city, Liverpool again, seem those words to be. It seems initially an odd way to close, until the sense of connectivity is realised and recalled, it being a ploy to necessitate a further listen, so as to find the context. So, file more under beguiled than baffled. Which, overall, is what I take from this album of rich textures and ripe imagery, which, if teetering a little on the brink of saccharine, overall contains sufficient sour to leaven the palate.
Here is a stripped back studio setting of You Are Here, for contrast with the more elegiac arrangement on the record.