The best albums are admirable for a range of reasons: the intent of the piece, the technical skill of the artists, the dedication required. But how often is it that the spirit of the album seems to compete directly for your admiration? Wildbirds & Peacedrums’ The Snake, like the force and bravery of the duo’s whole existence, is enough to remind you that there’s still a place in music for ingenuity and plain old sass.
Granted, I am not entirely sure Wildbirds & Peacedrums hasn’t been preceded by a different husband-and-wife, drums-and-vocals duo that traded in experimental jazz/R&B/folk/primordial soup. But even if they were drawing everything about their work and image from some geniuses of years past, it wouldn’t matter. In a world full of guitars, laptops, midi-controllers, synthesizers and everything else, it’s hard to ignore an act that relies mostly on nothing but drums and vocals and more soul than a band with 10 times as many members and 30 times as many instruments.
The fact that the soul in Wildbirds & Peacedrums’ music comes across so powerfully likely has a lot to do with the set-up of the duo and the composition of its music. Singer Mariam Wallentin’s voice is beyond gorgeous, but it radiates feeling even when it doesn’t sound conventionally “good.” Wallentin’s voice cracks and squeals and groans as much as it just belts out notes, but even the choice to use her voice in such a directly utiltarian way, as an instrument as blunt and percussive as her husband’s drums, is indicative of the duo’s primal innovation. And it is always especially rewarding when a singer with a beautiful voice decides to twist and warp it, instead of giving audiences the same euphonic glaze we’ve come to expect from the typically talented.
As for Andreas Werliin’s drumming, Wallentin spells it out on The Snake’s last track. “Don’t run/ ‘Cause you see/ I’m lost without your rhythm,” Wallentin sings on “My Heart.” While “lost” might be a little hyperbolic, Werliin’s drumming certainly pins down Wallentin’s voice, giving it a rhythm to strut to at the same time. That last part is important, because strutting is something that Wallentin does a lot on this album, throwing another complication in the guessing game to pin the album to a genre.
So many groups use the cover of the term “experimental” as a shadow, underneath which to make indulgent, milquetoast, borderline unlistenable art-school warblings. Wildbirds & Peacedrums make experimental music that really carves out its own sonic space, that intrigues and engages without ever really attempting to “challenge,” because that’s not what it cares about. It cares about being earnest, honest, and defiantly itself. That is something that deserves our attention.