Wednesday, 22 April 2009

Review: McKisko - Glorio

When I first saw McKisko (or Helen Franzmann) perform her quiet, simple folk-pop songs she was opening the night's lineup, playing to a moderately empty room at The Hangar. That was about a year ago, these days she's playing to rather large crowds while supporting acts such as Bon Iver, Jose Gonzalez and Juana Molina. She's also just released her debut album, Glorio, to a not insignificant amount of local acclaim.

Glorio is an album centred around Franzmann's (at times quite impressive) voice. Guitar and piano provide the base upon which her songs are built, and various other instruments rear their heads at certain points, but the thing that dominates the mix is that voice - everything else is there for either utility or decoration. The sound of the album evokes thoughts of the mellower songs from Sufjan Stevens' Michigan and Seven Swans albums, or even Talk Talk's Laughing Stock - there's a stark pristine quality to these songs, where each instrument is placed just so in the spectrum of sounds. It's the perfect local release for the upcoming winter months. That's not to say that the songs are unemotional or overly perfected in any way (in fact there's a nice rustic quality to the performances), it's just that the subtle instrumentation and reverb-laced vocals evoke a certain feeling of icy winter landscapes. This is music that sounds like it came from Canada, not Brisbane.

The album starts with perhaps its strongest song, the atmospheric 'How We Are'. With a descending four chord progression that continues through the entire track, the song also features a hazy sounding cello (or perhaps it's a bowed guitar?), glockenspiel, minimal percussion, creepy loops and operatic sounding backing vocals. It's simultaneously incredibly beautiful and faintly terrifying. It could be my favourite local song from the year so far. Following it up is the comparatively upbeat 'The Hollow Boat', which actually features a fairly driving rhythm (of sorts). 'A Difficult Crossing' is probably McKisko's most crowd-pleasing song in a live context with its clever use of loops, but on the record the minimal, vocals-heavy production takes away much of the song's power. It's still a good song and provides a useful jolt of energy, but it could perhaps have benefited from more robust sounding production. It might have also been more effective later in the album, instead of being a mere two songs after the similarly energetic 'The Hollow Boat'. In any case, from that point on everything is fairly slow, sparse and beautiful, with the highlights of the second half of the record being 'Silence Slowly' and the wonderful closer 'Into The Night'. I guess I'm just a sucker for those dirgy piano ballads.

With Franzmann's vocals being such a focal point her lyrics are bound to come under some scrutiny. In my opinion they hold up; I certainly didn't notice any clunky lines that pulled me out of the surrounding soundscapes. McKisko avoids the dreaded 'confessional singer-songwriter' tag by making her lyrics much more abstract that most other local troubadours, and the music benefits from it.

Glorio is a strong record with a handful of truly great tracks (hell, I'd recommend it for 'How We Are' alone). At only 9 songs it's also quite brief, which is a strength when you're talking about predominantly slow, minimal folk music. I can't really think of anything else to say other than if you have a predilection towards fairly minimalist folk pop you should definitely give this record a spin - you can listen to a number of songs from the record at her myspace, as well as find dates to check her out live.

No comments: