Out of a Black Cloud Came a Bird
(Sleep Like Wolves)
UK: 12 Nov 2009
Ruby Throat comprises KatieJane Garside, of Daisy Chainsaw and Queenadreena fame, and guitarist Chris Whittingham. The duo have already released one full-length album, The Ventriloquist, in early 2009. Out of a Black Cloud Came a Bird, released at the end of that same year, continues the Ruby Throat aesthetic, a mix of dark folk, country gothic, and ethereal, acoustic indie music. The delicacy of the guitar work is in marked contrast to the raucous rock sound associated with Garside’s previous groups, while the singer’s vocals veer for the most part between barely-there filigree and mellow warmth in the style of Mazzy Star’s Hope Sandoval.
This barely-there aesthetic, steeped in loss and sadness, is emphasized by Garside’s customary dress and in the artwork which accompanies her various projects. The Ventriloquist came decorated with pinhole photography of pastoral scenes, Garside portrayed as a Pre-Raphaelite maiden. Out of a Black Throat… opts for scratchy drawings, lyrics scrawled in fine, spidery script, and, in the limited edition of the album, fine art prints of line drawings by Garside. The singer plays the role of the naif to perfection, her voice and lyrics alternating between murky depths and crystal clear reflection. These songs, not unlike those of Marissa Nadler, often exist (or inexist) as haunting hints of presence rather than fully realized objects. Music, of course, is never tangible, but on occasion here it slips from any kind of mental grasp. The lyrics of the first song are all but incomprehensible as sound, and all but unlocatable as written text in the CD liner. Second track “Shark” is more immediately present, coming over a little like a Joanna Newsom song.
The rest of the songs on the album are variations on these models, the more mysterious and impenetrable numbers inviting an effort after meaning that signals either seductive intimacy or annoying evasion, depending on your tolerance for the faux-naif aesthetic. That this is music composed around a lack is confirmed by Garside’s own frequent use of negatively-charged lyrics and the inclusion of Townes Van Zandt’s classic “Nothing”. The song arguably fits this album better than it did Alison Krauss and Robert Plant’s Raising Sand—which is not to say it’s a better version, but that the often surprising variety of material to be found on Raising Sand is in marked contrast to the obsessive circling of loss and absence to be found here.