There is no doubt that costumes and theatrics play a significant role in molding the identity of an artist. These can be traced to the initial theatrics of Alice Cooper, the notorious presentations of the Residents, the make-up of the glam rock scene or the infamous corpse paint of the black metal scene. Elizabeth Bernholz, the composer, producer, and musician behind Gazelle Twin conceived her project while witnessing Fever Ray’s performance at the 2009 Loop Festival. Fever Ray and its predecessor the Knife were one of the acts to take this style of presentation to the next level, and Gazelle Twin now further the possibilities of this legacy.
Bernholz finds the use of costumes to be something powerful and liberating, allowing one to shed one’s identity. That can be true of the persona that presents the music, as well as for the music itself in the case of Gazelle Twin. And so the style of Gazelle Twin displays a certain fluidity, one that evolves through an art-pop core and navigates avant-garde motifs through electronic and industrial influences. It is an impressive sound that was first unleashed in its proto form with The Entire City. The debut record laid down the foundations of Gazelle Twin in a mold made of darkwave aesthetics and ambient notions, but it was Unflesh that saw the experimental outlook of the project fully realized.
Now, Gazelle Twin return with Pastoral and begin to investigate a new scenery. While Unflesh possessed a distinctly urban sound, with notions of industrial and noise elements used as building blocks for the record, Pastoral instead takes a stroll to a psychedelic vision of the countryside. This change comes naturally to Bernholz, who recently moved away from the city, and features an array of intriguing elements that expand the already extravagant sound of Gazelle Twin.
The biggest switch is the inclusion of early music and folk elements which become focal points of Pastoral, affecting both the instrumentation of the record and also its structures. The lead flute in “Better in My Day” is one of the first introductions to this motif, with its harsh sound arriving and adding to the twisted sense of the track. Similar are some of the ideas in the otherworldly “Mongrel”, while the more minimal route undertaken in “Dance of the Peddlers” sees the vocal delivery truly shine within these structures. The uncanny attribute about the expanded instrumentation is the manner in which these elements coalesce with the main instead theme of Gazelle Twin, managing to coexist in the same space but also radiating with this alien and slightly twisted sense.
At the same time, the earthy quality of the early music element raises a ritualistic ambiance. The majestic “Glory” is such a moment, with Bernholz using minimal means and her impressive vocal delivery, augmented with background choral singing, to build a monumental track. This stripped down idea carries on with “Tea Rooms”, albeit in a less majestic and more esoteric manner. At the same time, the repetitive scope of electronic music adds a strange sense to the ritualistic attributes of Pastoral. The industrial-esque progression of “Little Lambs” is such a moment, as Gazelle Twin breathe into the track a tribalistic aura that drastically alters the soundscapes. “Hobby Horse” is another instance when this notion appears, adding on a sickeningly playful tone with a harsh and yet charming sense. It is also the moment when Gazelle Twin moves further into the territory of Fever Ray and the Knife, crafting an ominous tonality for their intoxicating electropop structures with a slightly dystopian sense.
Pastoral is a bizarre album in the most positive way, and its amalgamation of traditional musical concepts within this futuristic pop structure is what makes it so enticing. It is all highlighted brilliantly in the cover of this work, with the serene background being invaded by this out of place time traveling jester. The placement of this strange creature alters the perception of the whole piece, and it mirrors the manner in which Bernholz has structured her work. While starting from a known point of origin, in this case, the folk-ish tones and the standard electronic practices, Gazelle Twin diverges in order to produce something much more daring. In this process, it feels like there is a certain playfulness that comes into the fold, something also highlighted by the jester figure.
However, through the record, it feels as if Bernholz is having an almost sardonic manner in which she unfolds her concepts and ideas, be it the adventurous progressions or the lyrical themes that deal with the idea of identity and reality. There is this running theme throughout her work, which is also prevalent in Pastoral, that echoes through the lines: “What century is this?”, “What species is this” and “Who is this?”. All these questions add to the mystique of the record and create the wondrous hallucinatory result that is Pastoral.