Folklore’s debut is a lovely opaque work that should appear on all serious Best of 2008 lists.
The Ghost of H.W. BeavermanContributors: Jimmy Hughes, Heather McIntosh, Scott Spillane, Amy Dykes, John Croxton, Bren Mead, Andrew Rieger, Ian Rickert, Che-Na Stephens, Aaron Jollay, Raoul De La Cruz, Nick Canada, Pete Erchick, John Fernandes
US Release Date: 2008-01-18
UK Release Date: Available as import
The Ghost of H.W. Beaverman is a tale told from several perspectives broadly in the tradition of Kurusawa’s Rashomon, Sudden Sway’s To You With Regard and Iain Pears’ An Instance of the Fingerpost. This device conveys mystery and posits the notion that we all make our own reality within the grand illusion of life. Folklore may be hard pushed to match the impressionist allure of these songs.
The album runs just a few seconds over 30 minutes, has a circular quality with some lines and tunes repeating, yet two important factors make it a rich and rewarding piece of work. The primary one is the use of many different vocalists to allow the characters from each song to have their own voices. This contrast is vital since Folklore’s music occupies a deeply pleasing, but fairly narrow range of prettiness, mischief, and melancholy. It is also important that the storytelling does not dictate the rhythms or flow of the music. With a useful paper insert to expand on the tale, The Ghost of H.W. Beaverman reminds me of perhaps the greatest concept album you have never heard: The Alchemist by 1970s British group Home. Their record had beautifully illustrated panels in a gatefold sleeve to reveal much of the narrative detail, leaving the music free to wander up gloriously muddy paths.
Even with the inserted notes, the ghost of Bobby Fischer might be unable to decipher all the clues and angles in the varied perceptions of Beaverman. I have listened to this record more than 20 times without working it out. Actually, it would be more accurate to say that I have found the dazzling, anguished music so entrancing that I ceased caring about plot! There are some great tunes here, pitched somewhere between Appliance, Sun Kil Moon, and a stark, yet hummable, North European folk tradition.
To start things off, “Enter the Ghost” rises to a pitch and pace as ethereal as if New Order’s “Ceremony” was being played backwards by gypsy casino waitresses. The unreliable narrative then commences with John Croxton (of Wee Turtles) as “The Kid” recounting an Ouija board encounter with H.W. Beaverman’s ghost. “The Father” is more urgent, as Andrew Rieger (from Elfpower) contends that Beaverman is a prankster previously responsible for several deaths. This track has skuzzy guitar, frantic percussion, and a lonesome horn to lift the album towards the kind of swaying, awkward ecstasy associated with Neutral Milk Hotel. That’s fitting, as later on, Scott Spillane of NMH makes an appearance as “H.W. Beaverman” talking in a diner.
“The Drowning at Lake Bonaparte” is a suitably violent instrumental interlude. Then, the murderous nuances of this record seep out with “The Bartender” sung by Amy Dykes (from I Am the World Trade Center). Beneath the song’s lilting, haunting veneer lies a double-homicide drowning. “The Vet” sung by Bren Mead (from Masters of the Hemisphere) is a brisk, teasing song, partly about hoaxes and conspiracies. Within a fleet-footed alt-pop atmosphere, the idea is introduced that the legend of Beaverman could provide a useful smokescreen for unexplained tragedies and the foul acts of others.
Folklore is a project led by Jimmy Hughes (of Elf Power). Hughes' guitar playing is perfect for all the mood changes on this record. After “Bill & James”, a lovely, sparse song loaded with threat and regret, he takes a vocal turn as “The Pharmacist” to raise a different kind of altered perception. He sings of the death of his wife and the appearance of a ghost while confessing: “And I, mix my business with pleasure”.
The Ghost of H.W. Beaverman is a totally satisfying blend of imagination, truth, myth, personal history, bullshit, nostalgia, experiment and philosophy. Regardless of whether Beaverman is a malevolent presence with inhuman powers, a convenient enigma, a misunderstood accident, or something else entirely, this is a delightful record. It’s a mistake to pick out individuals on such a team effort, but John Fernandes’ violin, Nick Canada’s euphonium, Aaron Jollay’s cornet and Raoul De La Cruz’s trumpet stand out in evoking a wondrous sense of violence, death and loss.
Heather McIntosh (of The Instruments and Circulatory System) delivers the album’s peak as “The Ghost” against a gorgeous backdrop, including her own cello. Hearing this delicate stirring piece reminds me of the film Rivers and Tides, and, in particular, the section where a wooden structure painstakingly created by artist Andrew Goldsworthy is lifted by rising water and stays intact for a minute or two, even as it floats away to inevitable destruction.
Please ignore the rumor that Folklore has a new album, Carpenter’s Falls, coming out shortly, and be sure to hear The Ghost of H.W. Beaverman.