“Said The Owl To The Mouse“ is the second album from God’s Little Eskimo, Manchester-based peddler of lo-fidelity freak-folkery. This solo performer is a true all-rounder: not only writing and playing all songs (plus arranging one traditional tune), but also recording and illustrating it too (as well as the cover art initial copies come with a 16 page booklet of drawings and lyrics).
“Said The Owl To The Mouse“ may not win plaudits for the top-end production values on first listen but once your ear has adjusted to the bedroom studio aesthetic there’s a beguiling beauty to this album. And God’s Little Eskimo achieves an impressive array of sounds and moods through the clever overlapping of guitars, autoharp, toy piano, bowed saw and percussive effects. It may have been borne of the bedsit but the songs and hand-drawn illustrations here celebrate both the wonder and the darker side of the natural world - it is populated with rustling leaves, groves and twilight’s remorseless creep. Several songs echo the rhythms of the nature and the seasons: ‘Rooks’ is a tinny, ragged but joyful skip at the return of Spring; ‘Limb By Limb’ is the slow, woozy unfurling of limbs coming out long winter’s hibernation; and ‘Beneath the Breaking Waves’ mimics the eddies and swirls of a submarine world.
On closer listen it appears some of these songs are sung from the perspective of animals: "moss beneath my paws", "as I swoop in aerial display". But this is less the anthropomorphic tweeness of Beatrix Potter and more the sinewy realism of Ted Hughes all convincingly delivered with a firm directness and a clear, rich vocal timbre. And some delicious use of language too - “liquideous" and “undulating" just two of the choice words in 'Breaking Waves At Night'.
Elsewhere there are very human emotions on display. ‘If I Were To Bury You’ is a sparse but haunting love song over distorted guitar notes. It is difficult to be sure that the cryptic ‘Kinski’ refers to the German actor but the claustrophobia and desire for freedeom (“He remembers when he was an astronaut but he can only go so far alone”) is deeply affecting. And just when you think you have the measure of this record, it goes on to cover myth in the choral voices and wind-chime swirls of ‘The Alder King’ and then history and ecology in ‘Good Bye Great Auk’, the latter relating the final recorded sightings of the extinct sea bird to the eerie strains of bowed saw.
The record finishes with that arrangement of a traditional tune ‘Tomorrow Will Be My Dancing Day’ – echoing vocals over harmonium-like drones with birdsong piping in the background that is both sombre and uplifting, a haunting but exquisite coda to an astonishing album. Forget what I said about production values – this is an inventive and mesmerising record from a singular talent - and one of the first of 2011 that has left me genuinely moved and excited.
Rooks - God's Little Eskimo
Breaking Waves At Night - God's Little Eskimo
God's Little Eskimo Said The Owl To The Mouse [BUY or BUY]