A strange thing happened to me at 2009’s End of the Road Festival. I’ll come clean – festivals and me generally don’t get on. Too many people, too much squalor. Unpleasant toilets, too many people. Back pain from standing up too long, lukewarm reception for your favourite band because most people in the crowd have never heard of them, too many people…I could go on. EotR 2009, however, worked in every respect; the sun shone, the site was clean…hell…even the toilets were OK! Best of all were a slew of bands that put on performances that were just too good for anyone to ignore – The Tallest Man on Earth, The Low Anthem, Dodos, Okkervil, Dirty Projectors, Josh T Pearson. Possibly the best of the lot were Wildbirds & Peacedrums. My brother-in-law and I, bored by whatever was on the main stage, speculatively wandered over to the tent and caught the last song and a half of what was evidently quite an event. On stage: a man, a woman, plenty of hair and a drum. And you couldn’t take your eyes off them! In twenty five years of regular gig going I don’t think I can recall a band play with such intensity and abandon, so completely lost in their music and channeling so effectively every last joule of energy they could muster into the crowd. Martyn and I knew immediately that we had just more-or-less missed something quite spectacular and felt simultaneously disappointed and privileged.
That was that until about six months ago when I ventured into the excellent Drift record shop in Totnes and, flicking through the vinyl, came across The Snake. I very much doubt that I would own this record if I solely purchased music from the internet – although the gig(let) had been amazing, I had dismissed the band as being a wonderful live act who probably disappointed when trying to reproduce their sound in the studio. But it seemed a little like fate that the record was there, in non-virtual form, in a little independent record shop in rural Devon. The guy behind the counter certainly seemed pleased with my acquisition and I left the shop curious and strangely confident that this was money well spent.
Wildbirds & Peacedrums are married couple Mariam Wallentin and Andreas Werliin. They hail from Sweden. There must be something in the water over there. Education, welfare state, high taxes, equality, dark nights, northern lights…whatever it is, they’re doing something right if their music scene is anything to go by. Wildbirds & Peacedrums are yet another special Swedish band. But a national proliferation of talent and quality in no way detracts from the consistent excellence of The Snake. I suppose the album’s closest Swedish cousin would be The Knife’s Silent Shout but whereas that record sounded glacial and sinister, The Snake is visceral, energetic at times, and has a much warmer heart. Although the drums take centre stage, the closer one listens the more one hears – these are complex songs with subtleties that reveal themselves with time. To be honest, I don’t really know what compelled me to take the album to DRC as I had never really intently listened to it before. This is evidently not an album to have on in the background as you attempt to wash up whilst your daughter asks you about her maths homework and your son is making farting noises on his forearm. It took an evening of proper listening round at Nick’s place for The Snake to reveal its true quality to me and now I am going to have to go and rewrite my bloody Best of the Decade list!
Rob listened: I found in ‘The Snake’ some of the cold distance and alien-ness that the others ascribed to ‘Hidden’. It’s great to hear a band taking spare ingredients and hammering something new out of them. We talked and thought about Morphine, Low and ‘Sung Tongs’ as similar examples of instrumental restriction driving either wild invention or pure distillation. It’s intriguing also to hear this and find parallels with some of the other remarkable music coming from Sweden over the last decade. This lady came most easily to mind. I missed Wildbirds and Peacedrums at the End of the Road. I was probably off watching Fleet Foxes with the masses. Whilst I didn’t have enough of a chance to get a real grip of their spooky-forest drum folk tonight, I found what I heard thrilling.
Nick listened: I had never heard of Wildbirds & Peacedrums before, which is unsurprising I suppose given how Tom discovered them; it seems like a certain amount of happenstance was required. I find it intriguing that Rob found this to be spooky and These New Puritans to be “enveloping, groovy, and fun”, because The Snake, on first listen, seemed to me to be a warmer, friendlier, less aggressive take on percussion-driven alternative-to-something than These New Puritans, certainly in terms of pure sound; the drums which drive this album while just as naturally-mixed as those on Hidden are so much less overwhelming and oppressive. Beyond that, the music reminded me a little of The Dø, a French indiepop duo, but more abstract and less song-based. I didn’t like The Snake enough to rush out and buy my own copy (heaven knows where I’d find it other than online anyway), but I will try and borrow it when we meet next at Tom’s gaff (now that I have relented and left my record player out all the time) so I can get to know it better.