Erland & The Carnival, Nightingale

Published on April 5th, 2011 in: Current Faves, Music, Music Reviews, Reviews |

By Less Lee Moore

eatc nightingale cover

“A musical and melancholy sound” is not just a lyric from “Nightingale,” the title track from Erland & The Carnival‘s latest album, but also a perfect description of the band. They weave both musical references and literary allusions into their distinctive melodies, creating an evocative, intoxicating musical tapestry that is lush and extraordinary.

While the members of the band—Gawain Erland Cooper, Simon Tong, David Nock—are clearly accomplished musicians, they also love experimenting with the sounds that instruments make, utilizing the standard guitar, drums, and keyboards in addition to more exotic ones like the harmonium and zither. This gives the album a spooky, Victorian gothic aura. But this is not ’80s Goth Pop or Danny Elfman’s Tim Burton soundtracks; think Jane Eyre, Emily Dickinson, and Edgar Allan Poe set to music. Lyrically, there is also a fixation on death and the supernatural.

Although the first two tracks, “So Tired In The Morning” and “Map Of An Englishman” (the latter is the first single) are both outstanding, they have more of the feel of straightforward Britpop than the others. “Emmeline,” which borrows its lyrics from an A.A. Milne poem, is the first real taste of the Erland & The Carnival style on this album, sounding exactly like the sort of mystery its words illustrate.

“I’m Not Really Here” is fantastic, traipsing amongst a kind of response to the eerie Carpenters hit “Superstar,” the old African-American spiritual, and a variation on Billie Hollday’s “Good Morning Heartache.” It inserts a charming chorus and covers everything with the shimmer of 1960s French pop.

Erland & The Carnival are also known for reworking English and Scottish folk songs, and “I Wish, I Wish” is yet another example of how well they succeed at it. Cooper’s voice is mournful here, perfectly in keeping with the tenor of the song. “This Night” lifts its first line from The Smiths, but doesn’t sound at all like that band, instead presenting tantalizing percussion, including a sound like a piano wire being plucked.

“Nightingale” is an excellent blend of subject matter, lyrics, and music. It also evokes the literary metaphor of its namesake, from the Greek myth of Philomela and Procne, to Keats, Milton, and even Hans Christian Andersen. The low key yet lovely “East and West” is almost medieval sounding, with acoustic guitar, a pretty bridge, and what could be a reference to “the minds of my generation” from Allan Ginsberg’s Howl.

While “Springtime,” has a slightly modern New Romantic sound, it could be the account of a suicide, and also includes lyrical references to “The House Of The Rising Sun.” Then the album shifts in tone, with the creepy, chromatic scale keyboards that introduce “Wealldie.” Hard guitar strumming and almost military-style drums then transform the song once again, this time into a chant about the afterlife.

“Dream Of The Rood” is apparently based on an Eighth Century Christian poem, where “rood” is an obsolete term for a crucifix, while “Nothing Can Remain” features oddly and purposefully out of tune guitar and whistling. The final song on the album, “The Trees They Grow So High” is another reinterpretation of an folk song, with guitar reminiscent of John McGeoch’s work with Siouxsie and the Banshees.

In addition to the remarkable musicality of Nightingale, Cooper’s vocals deserve special mention. Although at first his voice seems somewhat nondescript when set against the incredibly exotic songs, one quickly realizes that it is the dark, seductive current that draws the listener into the unique and captivating world of Erland & The Carnival.

With Nightingale, Erland & The Carnival have invented a world from which you don’t want to escape, a beautiful dream from which you don’t want to wake up.

Nightingale was released on March 29 through Full Time Hobby Records. Please visit Erland & The Carnival’s website for more information and upcoming tour dates.

2 Responses to “Erland & The Carnival, Nightingale

  1. Popshifter » Creepy Video For Newest Erland & The Carnival Single, “Springtime”:
    May 12th, 2011 at 2:12 pm

    […] check out Erland & The Carnival’s excellent Nightingale album (reviewed on Popshifter here) if you haven’t […]

  2. Popshifter » Erland and The Carnival: Best Of 2011:
    December 19th, 2011 at 10:02 am

    […] and The Carnival’s latest album, Nightingale, was released on March 29. The band will be playing in Vienna at The Maifield Derby Festival on May […]

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