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coverpic flag Norway - Full Moon 233 - 08/29/15

Phaedra
Blackwinged Night
Rune Grammofon

Phaedra was a goddess, a victim of love, in Greek mythology. There are written several plays and operas based on the story of Phaedra. Tangerine Dream's fifth album, the first for Virgin Records, was named after her. And here's the relative young female artist Ingvild Langgård (keyboards, zither, bass, percussion, arranger and producer) who's taken the name when she deals with her own self-penned pretty mature and confident songs. Or maybe this is a band project where Ingvild, Jørn Tore Egseth (keyboards, guitar, electronics, arranger and co-producer) and Anne Marthe Sørlien Holen (drums and percussive devices) form the basis and are helped out by several other excellent musicians here and there?

Blackwinged Night is Phaedra's second album in a trilogy. The first one, The Sea, was released in 2011 to unisonous critical acclaim. Ingvild was compared to Vashti Bunyan, Nico and Elizabeth Fraser of Cocteau Twins after its release. Well, there were several folk elements and quite a lot of acoustic guitars and strings on that album, but still somewhat remote from the pure folk and singer-songwriter expression of Vashti. I don't quite understand where Nico comes in. There are gloomy moments and lyrics on both Phaedra albums, but in a quite light wrapping compared to Nico's gloom and doom. The music of Blackwinged Night is heavier arranged than its predecessor, a blend of electronic and acoustic. At first listen I thought it was pretty synth based, but closer listening reveals several acoustic strings, woodwinds, harmonium, and the synths seem mainly to be of the analogue kind. The production comes closer to Cocteau Twins and even more their label-mates in 1980s Dead Can Dance, with quite a lot reverb and other effects on the voice and drums, and other instruments to some extent, too. But the vocals are not as characteristic as Elizabeth Fraser's or Lisa Gerrard's of Dead Can Dance. Phaedra's/Ingvild's is softer and seems more scholared.

The music might be characterised as art-pop; pretty smart, with some playful prolonging towards the end of the album, off the trodden path of straight pop. Sometimes, when the reverb of the drums reaches its peak, like in "Too Much Sugar", with glockenspiel, too, the music is quite pompous. The same goes for parts of the sad title track, quite symphonic with lots of strings. But, as long as it sounds as beautiful as here, I don't mind. Otherwise slow, beautiful, dreamy and haunting are the characteristics that most easily spring to mind. The opening track "Lightbeam" (check the running video on Phaedra's home page or YouTube) and "Half Human" are the most obvious pop contenders here. And "The Void" has an irresistible simple and catchy pop chorus in between some Laurie Anderson alike produced verses, due to the tuned percussion and vocal arrangement. "Mend Me" is by far the longest track of the album, almost eleven minutes, again close to symphonic pop, partly with pompous drums and piano, and vocals that resemble Björk, partly dreamy and a bit blurred towards the end with military drums and eastern tinged violins. A favourite. And finally, at the very end of the album, "Finally Unfolding", a beautiful, slow, dreamy, repetitive drumless ballad accompanied by strings and bass clarinet that leaves the mind at ease.

According to the Rune Grammofon home page, the lyrics are 'circling around themes like creation and collapse, time and falling stars'. They're not easy to catch, quite personal and lyrical, it seems to me. They might be gloomy, but in a universal sense rather than specific. Anyhow, the music contrasts the lyrics. "The Void" is not empty, "Too Much Sugar" is not that sweet, the title track not that dark, etc. I have lived with both Phaedra albums for quite a while now. I'm not sure if Blackwinged Night is better than The Sea. They're both great, but in the long run I think I might prefer the more acoustic and airy debut. No matter, I feel confident that we might look forward to the last album of the trilogy with great expectations.

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