Medicine Voice: Prelude / the ouroboros of heartswin

A darkly rocking trip around the world-snake

Prelude / the ouroboros of heartswin is the second release for Sar Friedman since her metamorphosis from the ethereal drone of her old moniker heartswin into the PJ Harvey-channeling Medicine Voice. Confusingly, however, I think this is all actually material that was recorded before that first record, I And Thou, thus the Prelude of the title. Or, wait, no, it’s actually the final chapter of the mystico-philosophical journey of the initial release. What? Okay, so I think I can explain that one: it’s because of the ouroboros, you know, the mythical world snake that eats it’s own tail, signifying the eternal return of all things? Fine, well, I can guarantee you that the intellectual underpinning of Sar Friedman’s work is exactly as intense and eye-poppingly thorough-going as it has ever been.

Don’t let that put you off though, one of her most significant strengths as an artist is the ability to shape all of that into quite moodily listenable music. So much is obvious from the opening track here, threesixsix, stretching a lilting, lyrical vocal harmony over a spiritual, jangling stomp and fleshing the tension with hammond organ and the tinkle of a piano. It sounds very much like the more ethereal moments of PJ Harvey’s Hope 6 Demolition Project: dark rawk songwriting paired with old, folksy elements.

Roar does trade out the instrumentation for an acoustic guitar and a distorted, growling electric one, lurking in the background, but doesn’t do what the title suggests, instead it just sits tensely, stewing in its own juices. Likewise Bombshell, even with its snapping, electro percussion and a surprisingly playful bass clarinet: it’s energetic only by comparison to its immediate predecessor,: held in check by Sar’s rigid grip.

At this point there was a bit of a danger of the EP just sounding like a handful of interesting but not compelling additions to I & Thou, but no, we were just being strung along, lulled into a false sense of security before the jaws of the EP’s climax, Tammuz, and its near twenty minute grandiosity came crashing down. Ghostly, moaning, atmospheric wails are suddenly crushed by a cacophonous guitar drone. That reminds me: it’s worth noting who the other personnel are on the EP. Once again Sar Friedman has brought along some famous friends, but they’re a very different crew from those that helped create I & Thou. One of the biggest CVs belongs to Randall Dunn (producer to the likes of Sunn O)))Wolves In The Throneroom and Earth) who worked on the EP’s first three cuts. It’s quite ironic though, he wasn’t present for the final epic, which sounds so much like one of Sunn O)))’s giant collaborations and it’s the only one here that does. With or without him it’s a real monster and a startlingly complex one, too: flipping from tracts of guitar noise to finely orchestrated sections more akin to chamber music, no doubt thanks to contributions from the likes of Snowman’s Joe McKee and Zero 7’s Olivia Chaney.

There are a couple of problems, Tammuz, recorded a year earlier again than the rest of the EP, throws it all out of balance. No matter how you tracked this thing, the scales were always going to be completely out of whack: three wild-eyed ferrets trying to stand against one all-devouring world-snake. It’s a small complaint I suppose, but a needling one, especially when the careful balance of Friedman’s rocking and experimental sides was such a key feature of I & Thou. More significantly something went wrong in the recording of Tammuz and there are sections of it where the sound peaks dreadfully. Although they don’t say it, it’s like this was a one-off live recording, warts and all. Whatever the reason it does mar this otherwise mighty creation.

As an industry shill I tend to measure releases at this time of year for their Christmas present potential. I’ll be honest, even the inevitable, tinsel-dicked R. Kelly horror that surfaces every year strikes me as more Christmasy than the ominous rumblings of Sar Friedman and her Medicine Voice project. I kid, and despite its imperfections here, I’m glad to be reminded of Sar Friedman’s work: her ability to bridge the gap between avant-garde, drone and fierce rock, her access to an array of the industry’s finest performers and the potential for these things to create something that will really significantly impact Australia’s musical landscape. All of this makes me very keen to hear what happens on Medicine Voice’s next cycle ‘round the world snake.

- Chris Cobcroft.

Album Details

Album Title: Prelude / the ouroboros of heartswin
Artist: Medicine Voice
Record Label: (Provenance)