The PhiLL(er)

Dark Småland Cover
The Instruments

Dark Småland
Orange Twin Records

For the curious but lazy among you, Småland is a region in southern Sweden, although quite what makes it dark, apart from when the sun don't shine, I can't say. It gets a fairly normal amount of daylight for northern Europe (it's too far south for all that midsummer midnight sun stuff). Anyway, this beautiful album starts with a two-part "Ode to the Sea" which sounds appropriately shantyish in a kinda Irishy sort of way: think Drovers. As the album progresses it becomes both more orchestral—the gorgeous intrumentals "Arabesque" and "Pastoral" for example—and explores a variety of folk idioms ("Mountain Sons" sounds like an extrapolation of southern mountain music, and is driven in part by a single repeated vocal line). The cello (Instruments spearhead Heather McIntosh's primary instrument) usually leads from the front, and the spacious drumming sits behind the songs in calm and composed accompaniament. The genius of this album is that each song is based on simple idioms and structures which are embellished through the layers of vocals, rhythm section and various string and horn arrangements. The middle tracks alternate between instrumentals and songs with vocals, which has a curiously unifying effect over not only the heart, but also the whole, of the album. This is no mere collection of songs, either: Heather McIntosh and her collaborators have created an intelligent, intense and beautiful album.