Overloaded Ark is an album of cultural dichotomies, musical binaries, and cosmic dialectics. On their second album as a duo, Helena Espvall (of Philadelphia psych-folkers Espers) and Masaki Batoh (leader of Japan’s legendary Ghost) have created a work that uses a rich array of folk forms, obscure and varied instrumentation, and touches of classical and experimental composition. The album is at once ancient and futuristic; organic and synthetic; earthy and celestial. Drawing on influences that range from Cuba’s Silvio Rodriguez to 15th-century Flemish composer Orlando di Lasso, Espvall and Batoh have created an album that traverses centuries and realms, funneling the many points through a contemporary prism.
There’s always a fear with such a high-concept menagerie of styles that an album will veer into that uncomfortable “world music” realm, one associated more with Pier 1 Imports than interesting music. The very presence of Masaki Botah, however, should be enough to quell such concern: Though some of the album’s more hushed explorations can be more than a tad dull, a psychedelic wake-up call is never too far in the distance. In fact, it is when Espvall and Batoh capitalize on the exhilirating posibilities of the ancient (the pulsing, swirling title track being an excellent case in point) that the album is at its best.