Having recently reviewed the excellent The Other Side, the new studio release from London based trio Quest Ensemble, I was certainly in the market for more of ‘the same’. So when Hinterlandt’s latest offering came up for offer on the TPA pipeline, with the descriptor of “angular chamber music” attached to it, my interest was piqued.
Both groups feature classically trained musicians, both incorporate their own slants on the contemporary chamber music format and both deliver an enthralling mélange of predominately acoustic takes from the ‘progressive’ pot. The end results, however, are as far apart as their relative positions on our globe.
The Sydney-based quintet break from the angular stringed chamber music mould with their off-kilter pop sensibilities, darkly immersive lyrics, recounted throughout by the sweetly intoned voice of Nicole Smede. The final dynamic in their chain is composer, multi-instrumentalist and trumpeter Jochen Gutsch, the man behind Hinterlandt, and perhaps the best person to introduce the premise of Seven Tales.
“As the listeners are introduced to the fictional characters the songs are named after, it slowly becomes clear that each of the Seven Tales evolve around a tragic moment. Heart-breaking circumstances are supplemented with glimpses of black humour as the album provides an endearing and emotional window into the lives of seven humans (and a dog).”
OK… so Vilma is the unfortunate character in our first tale, killed by the rebounding bullet from her gun as it ricochets off the power station. 😉
The final lyric reads:
Across the album the lyrics are alluringly witty, darkly humorous literary nonsense, delectably delivered by the silky voice of Nicole Smede, which somewhat belies the allegory of the tales. So had The Tale of Vilma been underpinned by acoustic guitar or piano, the subtly of it all may have been masked, however the assertiveness of the violins and cello should have dispelled such notions. And the contrast between the silky vocals and the often strident string parts is a key feature on Seven Tales and absolutely nailed here on Vilma’s misadventure.
Following this we have the longest of the tales and the lamentable story of Borges, wonderfully captured, in musical terms, by the whimsical interwoven violins that lap around the narrative’s feet. The minimalistic arrangement draws you to the anecdotal incidents that surround Borges, as he builds his castle just outside of town, with arches, towers, windows and staircases that lead nowhere. When complete, he will fill his castle with dancers, magicians and clowns. The punchline to this shaggy-dog story is left to the final verse:
She had to put Borges down
And with him went the castle just outside of town.”
Let’s continue to precis Seven Tales‘ episodic stories. Jamira is an inquisitive toddler on her way home from nursery – it’s Tuesday so it’s The Simpsons night. The long-running maladies of Jeff see him “abandon common practices and use unconventional methods”, as an alternative solution. And that is the last we see of Jeff, barring a single hair from his beard. We can only surmise that he will return from his 4th Dimensional pursuits, sometime last week? And it has to be said the storylines throughout add a tantalisingly quirky dimension to the album as a whole. Ralph’s ultimate efficiency quest culminates with him stopping breathing; Zara becomes a Uber driver to save money to visit India; and finally Karim – sees the light.
Time to listen, enjoy and interpret for yourself?
Seven Tales is Hinterlandt’s fourth release on the Art As Catharsis label, which in turn follows a long stream of independent releases from Jochen Gutsch’s Hinterlandt project, dating back to the early 2000s. Now after a couple of run throughs of Seven Tales, I felt compelled to dig into that Hinterlandt back catalogue. First port of call was 2018’s Sollbruchstelle EP, and as a side note, if this release has taken your fancy, then the aforementioned EP is well worth investigating. Once again Sollbruchstelle takes us into the realms of constantly shifting, angular meters and somewhat uneasy notational intervals. But, no vocals, and you will have to go back another year to 2017’s Ode to Doubt to find them. Ode to Doubt is the more readily accessible album of the two, and again well worth checking out.
The two previous releases are enjoyable in their own right, but also serve well in identifying with Seven Tales, as they offer a natural progression. And you will find no better example of this than the band’s first single from The Tale of Karim. It’s on Bandcamp, it is linked below, you just need to press play…
So far I’ve only briefly touched on the music and the curious might ask – are these compelling tales ably supported by the music? They certainly are, and richly so… The dark humour of the seven tales are superbly captured by the musicians and arrangements. At times the strident strings punctuate and attack, other times they weep with melancholy, but invariably, they seize the mood. For instance, in just thirty seconds, both pizzicato and bowed strings capture Ralph’s arresting efficiency. Whereas in The Tale of Jeff the band’s classical influences shine through, with string trio ornamenting Nicole Smede’s troubling chronicle. Embellishing the violins and cello is Gutsch’s doleful trumpet. Now strings and trumpet, may not seem to be a marriage made in heaven, but it certainly works for these Sydneysiders. It is however the introduction of Gutsch’s acoustic guitar that steals the show, as it heralds the tormented conclusion to the track.
Seven Tales takes a little time to sit comfortably, but pretty soon the avante-garde, classical and indie folky pop seem ideal sofa companions, chuckling away at Bart and Homer, as they quietly leaf through the works of Roald Dahl.
01. The Tale of Vilma (5:02)
02. The Tale of Borges (9:23)
03. The Tale of Jamira (4:30)
04. The Tale of Jeff (7:01)
05. The Tale of Ralph (0:36)
06. The Tale of Zara (5:43)
07. The Tale of Karim (3:56)
Total Time – 36:11
Nicole Smede – Vocals
Monique Mezzatesta – Violin
Jara Stinson – Violin
Simeon Johnson – Cello
Jochen Gutsch – Trumpet, Guitar, Percussion, Composition
Record Label: Art As Catharsis
Country of Origin: Australia
Date of Release: 20th August 2020