Tuesday, August 30, 2011


Tasseomancy is twin sisters Sari and Romy Lightman, originally from Nova Scotia now resident in Toronto, who also form part of Austra as backing vocalists to Katie Stelmanis. After a 2008 EP under the name Ghost Bees, their debut album, produced by Timber Timbre’s Taylor Kirk, is out this week.

And if familiar with Austra and Timber Timbre then the overall sound of album may not come as a surprise. For “Ulalume” takes their extraordinary, beguiling voices as evidenced on the electro-goth-pop of Austra’s “Feel It Break” album and sets them amongst the sparse noir-folk of fellow Canadians Timber Timbre: gently plucked strings, eerie keyboard washes, occasionally punctuated by pounded drums. However this musical signposting may be insufficient preparation for the out-of-time singularity that is “Ulalume”, eleven fantastical songs that appear to be drawn from myth and pre-civilisation history. Tracks named after jackal-headed Egyptian gods or ancient Canaanite sea-ports, tales of tombs and scarabs, Diana the Hunter, buried bed-sheets and wolves eating leopards that span centuries and continents. The stories and sources may be arcane but they are paired perfectly with the otherworldly, ethereal vocals of the Lightman sisters which draw the listener, moth-like, into these ancient and fabulous worlds. The curious inflections and precise pronunciation of the sisters adds to the sense of otherness.

‘Soft Feet’ recalls the faerie madrigals of Joanna Newson on “Ys”. Others like ‘Anubis’ or ‘The Darkness of Things’ (with guest vocalist Taylor Kirk) recall the post-classical reflective reveries of Clogs; and the more thickly layered songs like 'Healthy Hands (Will Mourn You)' point towards the fuzzy psyche-folk of School of Seven Bells. There is a cool devotional gravitas to the delivery especially with the spectral bare-bones orchestrations but as well as occasionally unsettling the album also contains undiluted beauty in ‘Up You Go Little Smoke’, the gentlest of lullabies sung to a sleeping daughter.

A band name that refers to the ancient divination of tea leaf patterns and an album named after an obscure Edgar Allen Poe poem make this is a difficult record to ask for over the counter of your local record shop. To make things odder although on CD and Vinyl in North America, “Ulalume” is released in the UK as a candle (yes you read that right) with tracklist, matches and digital download code. But ask you should, because the album’s spooky charms are not as obscure or off-putting as its titling or format would suggest. From this introduction to the Lightman sisters it is difficult to imagine conducting a normal conversation with them but spending 45 minutes enthralled by their atmospheric music is an addictive pleasure.

Tasseomancy Ulalume [BUY]

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