In the Garden of Ghostflowers
Black Happy Day is the collaboration between Tara Vanflower (Lycia) & Timothy Renner (Stone Breath). This project inhabits the same creaky attics and bleak basements as Moodring (the Rollerball side project of Mini Wagonwheel & Mae Starr). The combination of traditional songs and modern technology make an interesting amalgamation.
I will be honest. On first listen, the music of Black Happy Day can be quite off putting, especially the first track. It is a reworking of the traditional song “The Leaves of Life.” It is mostly an a cappella duet between Tara’s unaltered vocals and Timothy’s heavily delayed and manipulated ones. At first, I found the mixture of delay and reverb of Timothy vocals distracting and unnecessary. After many listens, I have found that this odd combination provides necessary preparation for all the strangeness that follows on the rest of the record.
The more traditional folk title track “In the Garden of the Ghostflower” is pleasant after the disturbing opening track. “Whore” uses whistling feedback and odd electronic gurgles. Tara’s heavily delayed vocals sound like they are encased in amber. The vocals seem to be played backwards despite moving in a forward direction. I found the use of just feedback as the main instrument on this track very interesting. “Edward,” another traditional tune, is reworked so it sounds practically medieval with a Middle Eastern tinge.
The hilarious “How they Weep and Moan” seems to poke fun at all the dourness on the rest of the record. Tara does an impression of a possessed evil chipmunk that is overdubbed over her own sobbing and moaning. The press sheet describes the traditional songs such as “A Lyke Wake Dirge” as Americana, but it seems to me that such songs are far more ancient.
My favorite track of the disc is the minimalist “How many hours ‘til the spider’s work is done?” It opens with what sounds like a backwards playing sitar before being joined by Tara’s ghostly moans. Then Timothy’s deep baritone joins the mix along with Tara’s slightly delayed vocals. The song builds in complexity, becoming denser towards the conclusion. “Neither can I sleep or wake. But still I lie and still I wait. And how many hours ‘til the spider’s work is done?”
“Hand in Hand” is the most traditionally rendered of the traditional songs on the album. It is stunning in its simplicity and beauty. The album ends with another traditional hymn “Be Thou My Vision.” The juxtaposition of old traditional songs and modern musical technology makes for a fascinating arrangement. While this record is challenging, patience is rewarded with each repeated listen as more of the audio artistry is revealed. (Silber) (Dan Cohoon)