Wednesday, March 17, 2010

PICASTRO's 'Become Secret'

Picastro are a Toronto-based collective centred around frontwoman and song-writer Liz Hysen. “Become Secret” is their fourth album but my first introduction to the band. I was partly led to this record after reading the press quotation: “somewhere between the Dirty Three and Electrelane”. What’s not to like?!

Picastro deliver a brooding avant folk-rock akin to Godspeed You Black Emperor! backing Cat Power at her most forlorn. In addition to Cat Power, listening to “Become Secret” I am reminded of other vocalists dealing in melancholic nocturnes like Lisa Germano and Nina Nastasia. This is telling because over half these songs are instrumentals and when Hysen does sing her contribution occupies only a small portion of the song’s length. As with her band - cello, acoustic guitar, drums and piano – Hysen knows precisely how to gain maximum, often unsettling, effect from using her voice and those instruments sparingly.

This is dark chamber music built around repeated patterns of piano or cello, with equal nods to east European folk, post-rock and cinematic soundtracks. In fact if Nick Cave and Warren Ellis hadn’t delivered on one of their soundtrack commissions, Picastro’s ‘A Neck in the Desert’ would perfectly fit the bill as a replacement for one of their windswept, plaintive instrumentals. But with added eerie intensity.

I’m not normally taken by fan videos but this one from riderofheaven has the right amount of spooky minimalism and can’t-quite-see-what-it-is qualities to accompany ‘Pig and Sucker’ beautifully.

“Become Secret” is bleak, unsettling, melancholy but never alienating or obscure. Only 29 minutes long but its sombre intimacy and intensity make it utterly compelling. And next week the band are in the UK and Ireland for a tiny handful of gigs:

24 Mar Cafe Oto, London [BUY TICKETS]
25 Mar Dulcimer, Manchester [BUY TICKETS]
26 Mar Whelan’s Dublin [BUY TICKETS]
27 Mar Jolly Roger, Sherkin Island [BUY TICKETS]
28 Mar Crane Lane Theatre, Cork [BUY TICKETS]
(last two dates with Adrian Crowley)

Become Secret [BUY or BUY]

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