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Edward Ka-Spel – Tanith And The Lion Tree

Cold Spring

Edward Ka Spel - Tanith and the Lion TreeTanith and the Lion Tree revels in that rich and sumptuous world Edward Ka-Spel has carved for himself, one where the surreal becomes vivid, a vibrant play of words that like Kenneth Anger’s pleasure dome inaugurations, slowly unfold, ensnaring you in simmerings of dark fascinations. Tastes that jump from macabre to tender heart felts, from spite to cheerful jaunts of observation. Nuggets that refuse to give away their journeys end, delight in leaving resolutions dancing around in the listeners mind whilst the music slickly entertains a multitude of possible atmospheres, poking at the aura of each song in a prism of pleasing dimensions, stage sets. His words impart a strange narcotic, an alluring hypnosis of language, like something trapped in the flicking frames of a silent movie, that drags you into a half remembered rotten seed of suggestion.

The album’s opener “…O From The Great Sea” is a prime example, with Edward juicing the venom, concentrating the vengeful, meditating the ugliness of human hate in incising word floods, as if all wrongs were gathered up; focused, then beamed down ray gun style on his scurrying ant-like subjects. The music framing the drama, a real pressure cooker of insistence, as Weimar piano is transformed into a military clattering of callipers and voodoo pins: “I drove the train to Dachau/wore the hood of Ku Klux Klan/I slice off the hand that feeds you/cook it slowly, lick it clean.”‘ His words dragging you further into a musical maze, where shifting entrances/exits of rhythm make escape but a dusty memory. A Ballard-esque music hall descending into angry shapes, flanked in triple echo(ed) WHY’s, chased further by snaring Coil, godlike mirrors, deep and booming cocoons of WHHHHHHHYYYY!!!!… “You ask me why, Why?” Edward questions, all pseudo-calm, only to add peevishly “I’m not saying!” Something that strikes you straight between the eyes, Ian Brady style.

The following track title track strips itself almost bare in comparison. A cute pianola-led nursery box of magical sadness, the eerie naivety of the child-drawn cover, seeping into the crooked tale of a little girl feeding candy to a lion and placing his decaying teeth under her bed to wish forth a lion tree – the lion dribbling, dying off, the unfulfilled want of meat in his toothless mouth as he “watches his ghost go hunting bees,”‘ the ion blooms of the tree fed further candy; a grim parable of renewal, wrapped around the cranked music box pins.

It’s worth the admission for these two tracks alone, but there’s plenty more left to satisfy between loopian washes of sluice-like ambience. The Karl Blake-like monologue of “Four out of Ten” continues to dish out the aural pleasures, a repeating dub/spur of lubrication. Robotic canters of vocal raising into raaaaaah’s of disharmony, funnel webs of noise scratch into emulsion as words reflect further, deeper: “Your lies are like the creeping fog that blinds me/ guides my injured soul into the blender/with a thousand knives that grind,” as if the words are exploding with the repeated guttural industries framing them. Laser-etched spiked butterflies still flapping: “Feel my nerves explode galactic in your veins!/Does my hot exquisite pain excite you?… Does it? …Does it?, Hell, you careeeeeeeeeeeeee…” – slurring endlessly, an inquisition of a failed relationship. “I’m just another notch, another… conquest… come tomorrow it’s like I was never really there,” echoes of “Never there!” slipping the horizon, like a body off a multi-storey car park.

Breaking the mood, “The Bakersman”‘s Third Man comedic qualities dowse negativity in a noir pop sliver with odd industrialised interludes, the lyrics defining a gangster-like character: “Jerkov cuts it charismatic…’Strikes his matches on his jaw.” The music, a daft tumbling of brilliant colour and catchy chorus, with a harpsichordic finale weft warped by the filter fairies. The following “Prithee” continues the optimistic vibe, a tender love song that spares the syrup, a dronic gem of loveliness wrapped in barbershop harmonies. A piano cascade that leads you through a
lilting landscape that’s eventually unsure it can truly abandon the dark’s gravitational pull. Next up is a weird little ditty called “Prisoners of War” that floats out on a glistening ’80s synth rumpus. A lyrically fragmented meditation on the mistreatment of prisoners, with visions of a box kept “Alfredo, fed potatoes…” Taped screams of barbecued Bartholomew… Ka-Spel sarcastically adding, “no one’s ever bored…life is so much more fulfilling since they gave us all these prisoners of war!”

A lot of these songs seem diaristic, intently personal and “Hotel X” feels like it could fit that vibe. A beautiful and touching love song, a companion piece for “Prithee,” the imagery dropping like confetti to the pealing of bells in the background. A vaporous waft of atmosphere with softly-focused words that although slightly ambiguous, seem penned for a partner/relative whose is/was close to death’s door: “A rainbow whirlpool sucked us down. We tiptoed senseless underground/there was nothing we could hold except each other,” he sings, adding “You murmured your apologies…’We crawled, we shivered to the mirror where you saw your shaky hand hanging bravely to my ribbons.” The fragility of which is all-consuming as he adds, “I watched my tired eyes slowly burning, slowly burning,” the musical backing erasing itself from this life, the ensuing silence picked up in an afterlife on piano-pressed spirals full of hope moths and winged waves. Idyllics putrefying in the vocal pool of “Epilogue,” a looped “tragedy in aspic,” some fading requiem in hushed femininity.

The upbeat “Phony War” picks up the pace in poptastic goodness, sounding like a Legendary Pink Dots classic, grounded on a zapping reflux, sounding not unlike a malfunctioning Star Trek door. A parade of funny word wraps and zany mattress springs that leads to the delightfully experimental steam chug of cut up voices that is “Old Man Trouble,” an angst-ridden mess of space age industries and jettisoned dislocations that brings to mind the gurgling laboratories of LPD’s Chemical Playschool series. “Don’t Look ‘Til It’s Gone 2012” is a rework of a ’94 collaboration with Dark Star. It refuels the original in eerily close vocals and a semi menacing waltz: “So look away my fragile pretty, pretty… just think of lilac fields, of daffodils, Of ferris wheels that roll on forever,” the lyrics brilliantly reverb shadowed. Tram-line scissors and fairground ghosts teasing the outlines as the narrative whirs ever deeper into your consciousness like an uncontrollable stain.

The penultimate track is a quirky 2012 redux of “Prisoners Of War” that carves up the original into a mire of fusing electronics and pan-sonic shears and arpeggio-warped tinnitus, scrunched and rubberised envelopes of corrupted data. Which leaves a distant shot drone candy to close the album in a light swell of accordion and the soft hum of apparatus. A gentle repeated click of a needle’s run out ending this amazing and genuinely affecting piece of work, speaking volumes for this battered cage we call life.

-Michael Rodham-Heaps-

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