Jayne Amara Ross, Frédéric D. Oberland & Gaspar Claus - The Freemartin Calf

by Steve Rhodes Rating:7 Release Date:2013-09-23

A recent relocation from Leeds to Manchester has not affected Gizeh Records' prolific release schedule of its artists and none more so than with Frédéric D. Oberland who returns with fellow FareWell Poetry founders Jayne Amara Ross and Gaspar Claus to produce a soundtrack for Jayne's experimental black and white Super 8 film, The Freemartin Calf. Working in a similar vein to FareWell Poetry and his work in The Rustle In The Stars project, the album deals in brooding atmospherics, full of subtle instrumentation and background noises that gently entices and unsettles the listener.

A blowing wind greets opener 'The Crossing I, Winter Stone And Mortar' as an eerie, lightly treated, e-bowed and delayed guitar enters the fray, accompanying Jayne's monotonous spoken-word vocal. The ambiance remains maudlin as the track develops and violins are added, with the use of mood and space paramount to the song and the whole album. Soundtrack music to keep you on edge.

Like most soundtracks they are often better listened to as part of the film itself, rather than in isolation and a good deal of The Freemartin Calf is testament to that. Background dissonances are worked into the songs backing Jayne's vocal, like a sparsely cinematic Meanwhile Back In Communist Russia, with a eerie undercurrent throughout much of the album. 'Slip-Cut Topiaries' demonstrates this, chock full of foreboding atmosphere and delay very much in tune with Frederic's previous work. 'Swaddling Thickets of White Thickness' retains a slow pace with Jayne's vocal at first appearing with barely any backing, just a hint of water flow and light percussion, with delayed guitars and instrumentation appearing later, though the strings appear almost too late as they barely have any time to make an impact to a rather nondescript track.

A good exception to this is 'The Sacrifice', living up to its name with deeply uneasy instrumentation. Jayne's vocal in double-tracked and bent, taking on a mantric, disturbing edge. The strings are used more as aural weapons rather than laying the atmosphere in a fractious and intriguing song. A sonic assault to the senses. Equally but taking a different path is 'The Bed-Crows / Girasol', using actual noises of crows, mournful strings and high end keys that resemble the noise of a picture box. Building from inauspicious beginnings, the song takes a sinister edge as the volume increases, before becoming more serene towards the end, like A Silver Mount Zion or Rachel's scoring Hitchcock. Jayne's vocal is more effective as it is used sparingly, seeming more in tone with the music, rather than feeling forced.

The strongest tracks though are the instrumental numbers. 'The Crossing II, Gutter-Plunder starts with a FareWell Poetry favourite with the sounds of church bells. Strings are added a la Godspeed You! Black Emperor and field recordings are increasingly used. Again the tone retains a sombre manner, as expected with most soundtrack music. The song though puts the strings at the fore, that tug succinctly at the emotions and the track benefits from being uncomplicated and more earnest. 'On The Edge of the Great Precipice' seems to be a companion piece, continuing where 'The Crossing II..' left off with the same strings going on, but there is more to the song, with added accordian and organ contributing effectively to the mood. Likewise with 'The Crossing II' the approach of simplicity is a key factor to a wonderful and beautiful song.

The album closer 'The End / Credits' is equally powerful, a more reflective contrast to the rest of the album, where barely-audible strings allow a heartfelt piano to dominate. The use of mostly high-end keys adds poignancy to a beautiful finale, with just a touch of melancholy.

A piece that certainly benefits from its visual accompaniment but still stands well on its own, while The Freemartin Calf, doesn't exactly break new ground for Jayne, Frédéric and Gaspar it is a strong, consistent album with mystical and dark, disconcerting undertones, that creates a whole realm of emotions for the listener.

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