arrived in a batch of what is, frankly, one of the strangest bundle of CDs
I've ever received at one time. All of the discs are from Canada, and most of
them would be described as - for want of a better word - jazz. Experimental jazz, free jazz,
jazzy people called Geoff. You get the idea. They were jazz.
A couple of them owed much to Frank Zappa in the Mothers days. I discounted
those immediately (actually, I sent them to a mate of mine in Brittany -
he'll love them).
Then there was this disc. As it was so short - 28 mins. - and I was too busy
working to eject it and go on to the next one, I ended up listening to it
all. I like 28 minute albums: it's one of the main reasons I like Lemonheads.
I like 28 minute gigs too - Jesus & Mary Chain barely got past half of
that, and they were all the better for it. Crikey, I've seen bands who played
single songs that lasted longer than twenty-eight minutes!
The cover of this CD attracted me too: it's a simple painting done on
watercolour paper - Karen did the artwork. It reminded me straight off of the
sleeve of a Kevin Ayers LP I used to own. To be honest, this music doesn't
sound a million miles away from that music either. Well, it does. But it doesn't. It's quite pastoral, the
painting - like the music, full of space and fresh air to breathe.
Herd of Mers consists of two people, who I assume are a married couple as
they share a surname. They might be brother and sister. John Orsi plays drums
and percussion and Karen plays everything else; she also writes the songs.
The guitar is acoustic-with-attitude and the drums sound like a Spongebob kit
I saw in the window of a local music shop here in Newport. That isn't a
criticism: they sound great. Being so close physically, this has given the
Orsi pair a musical tightness that surely goes beyond just a lovely, bare
production sound. Hail to the producer and engineer! Actually, I see from the
sleeve that they did that too. Clever buggers.
Each track (there are eight, the longest a tad over 4 mins. the shortest a
little under 3) is pretty similar to every other, but this makes the album
stronger. It works as a 'suite' of songs (does that make me sound like an old
hippie?) though to be honest I can't understand most of the lyrics. It's a
sort of droning, American (sorry, Canadians - put it down to my ignorance)
sound, though there's an un-mistakable French tone to the whole thing. Unlike
some of the aforementioned CDs, this doesn't involve accordions or trying to
sound like Frank Zappa.
Karen sounds a little like Tanya Donelly or Kim Deal and there's a sort of
unplugged Pixies or even Nirvana sound going on here, albeit with Karen
rather than a rough-looking bloke singing.
It would be difficult for me to pick a stand-out track from this set as they
work as an album rather than a straightforward collection of (unrelated)
songs. The last track, Awhile,
begins with a smooth strummed guitar intro. accompanied by what sounds like
bongos, but almost certainly isn't. Their production assistant Daphne Dakota
adds some 'wayward' vocals to the song. Her name suggests she might have been
in a garage band at some time, or even played a small part in a David Lynch film.
Her backing vocals have that breathy texture that warm my feet, especially
good at the moment seeing as how there's snow on the ground.
Still on that last track, there's some buzzing lead guitar licks too (as we
used to say in the last century), and it's quickly become my favourite song
of the moment, though I'm not sure I could hum it to order. The song Single
Hour is another
sweet moment worth four minutes and six seconds of anyone's time. Listen to
it while you boil an egg sometime. As Karen sings in it:
Could you be
the one that's always there
between the wonder or despair
And that's made me want to finish this now and play the mighty Husker Du's Could
You Be The One?
You'll probably never see this album in a shop, but you might feel intrigued
enough by my vague account of it to have a look for them online and even buy
a copy (say hello to Daphne for me). Perhaps you'll catch them via the
website I heard a Radio 4 presenter call Facepack this week. You know the one.
© John Gimblett 2009