Release Date: Aug 25, 2009
Record label: The Control Group/Leaf
Genre(s): Rock, Alternative, Experimental
I saw Wildbirds & Peacedrums play a phenomenal set to a crowd of no more than twenty onlookers in Sheffield last month. Lesser bands might have pulled the plug or simply gone through the motions, but this idiosyncratic duo from Gothenburg brought the house down with a set that combined daring experimentation with soulful pop hooks. Only someone hoping for a Scandinavian Ting Tings would have been disappointed.
The best albums are admirable for a range of reasons: the intent of the piece, the technical skill of the artists, the dedication required. But how often is it that the spirit of the album seems to compete directly for your admiration? Wildbirds & Peacedrums' The Snake, like the force and bravery of the duo's whole existence, is enough to remind you that there's still a place in music for ingenuity and plain old sass. Granted, I am not entirely sure Wildbirds & Peacedrums hasn't been preceded by a different husband-and-wife, drums-and-vocals duo that traded in experimental jazz/R&B/folk/primordial soup.
It's only been a year since Wildbirds & Peacedrums released their debut album, Heartcore, and were praised for their application of deceptively simple techniques to create highly complex and agile pop music. The Swedish duo, comprising vocalist Mariam Wallentin and her husband, percussionist Andreas Werliin, have taken this unadorned method to a remarkable level on their follow up album, The Snake. Heartcore may have shone with clarity and technical artfulness, but in the passing year Wildbirds & Peacedrums have honed their skills to such a fine degree that their distinctive sound is now fully realized and acutely powerful.
This Swedish husband and wife duo make a refreshing change from the endless long ships of pop ironists embarking from Scandinavia. And with this second album cementing the union between Mariam Wallentin's impassioned gut-bucket vocals and Andreas Werliin's busy percussion, they are on their way to becoming the White Stripes in reverse. .
Swedish husband-and-wife duo Wildbirds and Peacedrums are closer to Siouxsie and Budgie's Creatures than the White Stripes. With Mariam Wallentin's striking vocals and Andreas Werliin whacking the hell out of his drums, the effect is perhaps what Siouxsie would have sounded like singing on Cozy Powell's 1970s drumming hit Dance With the Devil. Werliin is a breathtaking, tribal tubthumper, while his wife has a few blues strings to her bow, with hints of Janis Joplin, PJ Harvey and, in gentler moments, Antony Hegarty.
Just a year has passed since the release of Heartcore but with The Snake, Swedish duo Wildbirds & Peacedrums have already honed their sound beyond that debut. Upon cursory research the point is reached where you think “what the fuck, there's TWO of them?”. Even knowing this, it's still hard to fathom. It's equally surprising to find out they're also married to each other but, despite the matrimonial unity, there's a stark separation between the constituent parts.
Wildbirds & Peacedrums is one of those surprising bands that will impress you but it won’t be immediately clear why they do. After all, a husband-wife duo made up primarily of vocals and drums seems more like something that would be happening with hippies on a Saturday visit to the park than in a studio. Unlike your local drum circle, though, the Swedish duo of Wildbirds & Peacedrums create surprisingly soulful and complex jazz-influenced pop music in a most unusual way.
Bizarro Swedes return with vox, drums, not much else Wildbirds & Peacedrums’ 2008 debut Heartcore introduced an odd line-up: Mariam Wallentin indeed sings like a wild bird, but husband Andreas Werlin’s percussion is anything but peaceful. That they needed nothing else to get their songs across was impressive, and The Snake may not have the same sense of surprise, but it has not whiff of gimmickry either. With a volatile range and guttural tenor, Wallentin rumbles like Yma Sumac, growls like Nina Simone, and emotes like Kate Bush, as Werliin’s drums pulse menacingly behind her, pushing “Chain of Steel” to a desperate tempo while keeping “Great Lines” restrained.