With a name as flowery and cryptic as The Maladies of Bellafontaine you’d expect a good back-story: “a coquettish little Welsh girl and her swarthy Spanish lover rustled up a blueprint to provide a solution to the world’s insipid musical malaise…[assisted by] a quintet of tousled troubadours”. If the name sounds overblown and possibly riddled with a wasting disease, their music isn’t. The seven-piece play a whimsical, and gently psychedelic folk music that sounds as though it has sprung to life in the mystical Welsh Hills rather than the more prosaic and post-industrial setting of Wigan, their current base.
The debut single from the band has just been released on Static Caravan. It’s available as digital download or on 7” purple vinyl limited to 400 copies - and 50 of these have already gone at one gig supporting Erland and the Carnival. The two songs - ‘Black Biro’ and ‘Long Socks’- are nostalgically imbued with childhood pastimes and preoccupations (“black biro, black biro be my friend...talk to me”) but are not as wholly innocent or playful as they appear from the titles alone.
There is a gleeful hop and skip rhythm to ‘Black Biro’ with its skittering folk loops and warm organ-fuzz glow but also Rachel Pascoe’s cooing vocals, although wistfully beguiling, have a not-so-innocent and slightly eerie quality to them. Despite the folksy floating feel, there is a dark background hum that recalls early Broadcast gone all pastoral.
‘Long Socks’ appears to be about the September return to school with days shortening and “all the leaves are turning to brown”. Its chorus (“black kitten shoes and long socks”) is gloriously sensuous. However the verses are spookier – quivering clarinet gives the song a curious Eastern vibe, the overall tone is dark and autumnal and it all ends in a skronky folk freak-out of squealing instruments.
Static Caravan seems the perfect home for The Maladies of Bellafontaine - joining fellow purveyors of experimental folk like David Thomas Broughton, Tunng and Hannah Peel. A label of musicians that cannot be defined by a simple tag like ‘folk’ or even ‘alt-folk’ but by the truly individualistic sounds and quirks of the bands and players themselves. A highly recommended single - bring on the album soon I say.
The Maladies of Bellafontaine Black Biro [BUY or BUY]