Rhythm (Leaf) is the most focused and immediate collection yet from the Swedish husband-and-wife duo singer Mariam Werliin and drummer Andreas Werliin.
Where their first albums were offbeat and exploratory, with 2009’s Snake retooling the playful experimentation of their 2008 debut Heartcore into only relatively conventional song forms, and a subsequent brace of EPs, paired as Rivers (2010), distilling their sound into settings for choir and kettle drums, Rhythm strips everything back to basics and – as the title implies – puts the emphasis squarely on rhythm.
Leaf’s press notes cite three supposed influences on this music. Tropicalia seems obvious enough, though I’d’ve guessed more Bahian rhythm and the post-Tropicalia pop of Marissa Monte and Carlinhos Brown, and anyway much less so here than on Heartcore and Snake. If punk really was an influence, then it’s in spirit, not sound. If you already know Wildbirds & Peacedrums, then their nod to “contemporary R&B” might seem the least likely, but it perhaps is the most telling.
Mariam recently debuted in her solo incarnation as Mariam The Believer, and last year she also took on a key role in Ben Frost’s operatic staging of Iain Banks’ Wasp Factory. Both projects required a forceful projection of personality, and undoubtedly that fed straight back into her vocals on these songs, which are typically direct and robust even as she freestyles emotively, occasionally aping gospel-inspired R&B glossolalia, over Andreas’ rhythms.
Andreas is probably bet known as drummer in both the avant-jazz trio Fire! and its big band variant Fire! Orchestra, of which Mariam’s vocal is a focal component. I’ve witnessed the core trio plus Mariam play music from the Orchestra songbook, and their fiercely focused performance condensed the full orchestra’s dynamics to galvanising effect. The drum sound on this record is more clipped and regular than Andreas’ usual, with much of the the primitivism typically inherent in his sound muted in favour of emphatically propulsive percussive bounce.
Although Andreas’ playing on toms give the opening “Ghosts and Pains” a tribal feel, he kicks the follow-up “The Offbeat” along on solid backbeats. Elsewhere his raw but metronomic timing even evokes the back-to-basics beats of DJ Premier’s work for Jeru the Damaja, a marriage of jazz feel to stripped-back starkness, but Andreas’ sound always remains viscerally ‘heartcore’.
Writing, recording and producing pair in their own Stockholm studio, Andreas said: “Almost every song is one take. We recorded standing in the same room, no screens or isolation, looking each other in the eyes.”
The economy and idiosyncrasy of Wildbirds & Peacedrums’ sound is the root of their appeal. The Black Keys-like touch of an electric bass line on “Gold Digger” is a rare elaboration. The song commences with straightforwatd linearity, but Mariam’s hip-hop-style vocal takes an inward turn before refocusing, as a swell of electronics expands the music from within, as emotive beat poetry (“Explain it all / fuck it all / steal it all / control it all / too many heads inside of the body / and too many bodies inside of the mind.”)
The duo’s idiosyncratic bent is exemplified by the jarringly staccato, convulsively compulsive “Mind Blues”. “Who I Was” is more direct, Andreas’ pounding ceremonial transposing well into the handclaps that ultimately accompany Mariam’s declarative vocal. Each piece is likewise distinctive: “Soft Wind, Soft Death” marries pseudo-electro bass drum boom to cowbell patter and a multi-tracked and heavily reverb’d hymnal vocal (“Take me with you / a body without soul”). “The Unreal vs The Real” throbs menacingly, loaded with bluesy emotion and darkcore ambience. “Keep Some Hope” marries human breakbeats to a narrative vocal that involves both an imprecatory choral refrain of “Let us keep some hope / to feel that we’re alive”) and a contrastingly childlike “ooh ooh” counterpoint.
The album’s last track, “Everything All The Time” is initially founded on cavernously booming beats, but there’s a limber, funky rhythm at it’s heart, an inner pulse which is revealed on a mid-track breakdown that also lays bare a complex weave of tiered vocals. None of this music is as straightforward as it sounds, and much of it is funky and instantly, impulsively catchy.
Mariam Werliin , Andreas Werliin,
Buy Rhythm direct from Leaf.