Monday, April 25, 2011


The Doomed Bird of Providence has a very clear purpose on its debut record released in the UK this week: to “bring to visceral life the forgotten stories of Australia’s earliest days, bathed in salt, blood and dark deeds”. These lurid tales of poisoners, embezzlers, murderers and convicts are delivered as dark, lurching folk-cabaret, laced with vinegar and ammonia, maggots and dead flies. It’s deliciously dank and sinister. The five-piece band led by singer Mark Kluzek create funereal, creaking rhythms using accordion, ukulele, violin, bass, guitar and piano (no drums here) that is a world and two centuries away from the sunny, carefree imagery of today’s tourist board adverts for the land Down Under.

Opener ‘On A Moonlit Ragged Sea’ features ominous piano, drawn out accordion and strings and a rasping, nasty croak from Kluzek that sings of “embers of misery”. The song finishes on distressed bowed violin - or is it the timbers of a boat being torn slowly apart? ‘Fedicia Exine’ (“ [her] mother was a murderer...her father was a whaler”) contrasts intensely beautiful string passages with more of that low guttural intoning over eerie atmospherics as it spins out the recounting Fedicia’s transportation to a tense and unnerving eight minutes.

“Will Ever Prey” is an album of two halves conceptually (but not in mood – that stays dark and foreboding throughout). The first four tracks are tales based on historical accounts of the lives and fates of specific characters; the last five tracks are all segments of a long suite about sea-borne slaughter and betrayal. The first half yarns appear so fantastical (a man chained to an island rock survives by eating offal thrown to him by passers-by in ‘The Wild Beast of Goat Island’) as to almost make the listener doubt their legitimacy. But to me what counts is not historical authenticity but the convincing and deeply spooky mood of the record.

The second half song-cycle is 'The Massacre of the Whole of the Passengers and Part of the Crew of The Sea Horse on Her Homeward Passage from Sydney'. Again based on a contemporary broadsheet narrative, it tells of a small criminal element who hijack a ship and murder everyone else on board to ensure a greater share of the rewards when they land. This is as macabre as the first half but adopts a slightly different tack with many of the movements (including all ten minutes of ‘The Massacre... Part 1’) being instrumental. If the earlier songs recall the sinister cabaret of The Tiger Lillies, this song-cycle reminds me of the spare atmospherics of the Nick Cave and Warren Ellis scores. ‘The Massacre... Part 2’ may briefly introduce a ragged shanty but the overwhelming tone is more abstract, more filmic.

“Will Ever Pray” is an intense and immersive listen and quite unlike anything else I’ve heard so far this year. Despite its quite disturbing sounds it is also beautifully packaged. And if it all sounds too grim for you, there is an album of remixes of ‘Fedicia Exine’ coming in June (but I suspect these won’t be poppy dance-floor fillers).

The Doomed Bird of Providence support Last Harbour this Thursday at Sacred Trinity Church in Salford and next month play Nottingham, Ipswich, London and Shedfest in West Mersea.

The Doomed Bird of Providence - Fedicia Exine by frontandfollow

The Doomed Bird of Providence Will Ever Pray [BUY]

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