[11 October 2007]
If I could only keep one record made since the turn of the new century, this startling debut might be it. Moonlight Farm was recorded at home by Jakob Olausson, a beet farmer by day, in his native Sweden. (Not that this near-flawless album needs to hide behind any distracting facts about occupation or location.)
Here is a fresh listen for those who feel they have already heard enough music to last a lifetime—a feast of lonely nocturnal transmissions for people raised on Oar, Astral Weeks, and After the Goldrush, or those more recently enamored of La Maison de Mon Reve, Devendra Banhart’s Oh Me Oh My the Way the Day Goes By, or any of Juana Molina’s albums. That is not to suggest that Olausson’s influences are obvious or that his record seems derivative; on the contrary, there is great subtlety at work in his songs, and they neither lean too far in the direction of melody nor mystery while still possessing oodles of both. Yes, oodles.
Born in his bedroom, this is a classic from the opening notes (which sound uncannily like the Flatlanders) to the closing track, which could pass for a 23rd century version of Mississippi John Hurt. Olausson has a tremendous ear for meshing disparate sounds into an enchanting, flowing mix while keeping his compositions solidly accessible.
The opening piece, “What Will Tomorrow Bring”, couples guitar and violin to mesmerizing effect. “Silhouette V”is one of several tracks which take the record to a higher plane. I’ve tried to get to the bottom of its fabulous howling crescendo, but all that Olausson will reveal is: “It must be me…acting like a choir. Same way Joe Meek had to fill out the sound by himself on his demos.”
Originally released on vinyl in 2006, Moonlight Farm is a simple record, but several clever twists add to its complexity. The first of these is the double-tracking of his voice. This expands the sound and gives every track a haunting, transcendental quality. Another powerful dimension comes from the subtle use of sounds akin to gamelan, flutes, and a noise that is remarkably close to Ivor Cutler’s harmonium. Best of all is the fact that none of these aspects ever overwhelms the clear notion that, after all, these are songs, and we can hum along to our heart’s content.
The thumping, bring-out-your-dead bass and rattlesnake tambourine of “Queen Bee” recall the Velvet Underground & Nico, as could the accusatory conceit: “You go from flower to flower / The honey you produce tastes sour”. Throughout the disc the guitar accompaniment is nimble and ecstatic. At times, the cavernous singing echoes the ultra-moody croon of Ian Curtis, and “Listen Sister” even contains a faint subterranean residue of “Love Will Tear Us Apart”. The absence of a lyric sheet is forgivable, since whenever a word is obscured, it is invariably by a moment of sublime music.
Whether his next step falters or is a progressive stride, there seems to be no reason why Jakob Olausson cannot succeed by merely trusting to his own mastery of pure sound. After all, (as he sings on “Silhouette V”), “A hill is never steeper than it will let you climb”. His instincts are all he needs. Presumably, no one sets out with the intention of making a classic album. If they did, the result would be like the failed efforts of many a so-called supergroup or music industry-manufactured band: Overblown, underwhelming, and tedious. The exact opposite is true of Moonlight Farm.