Artist: Slim Twig
Album: A Hound At The Helm
Record Label: Pleasence Records
I have always liked Owen Pallett, so it was with a great deal of anticipation and glee that I sat down to listen to A Hound at the Helm—the latest offering from Toronto’s indie wunderkind, Slim Twig—once I found out that Owen had been recruited to work on it. Never having heard of Slim before, I assumed that the music would be akin to Pallett’s other work; namely evocative, glorious songs that flowed with brilliant violin work (much like his work with Final Fantasy). Note to self: never make assumptions.
The first track on this album, “Heavy Splendour”, was a cacophony of aural assault weapons. I understand that the duelling violins created a sense of tension in the music, but I was hard-pressed not to jam knitting needles into my ears just to make the torture stop. It was difficult to discern any lyrics above the shrieking bowstrings, and my pet birds kept dive-bombing me and screaming in the hope of making me turn it off. It worked. I acknowledge the fact that the song is intelligently, intentionally discordant, but I really, really hate it.
Fortunately, the rest of the album was much sweeter to my ears. From Track 2 onward, the tunes are smooth and addictive… though Track 6’s slightly schizophrenic feel might be an acquired taste. I can hear echoes of Bowie, DeVotchka, Lou Reed, and maybe a soupcon of Franz Ferdinand on this album, particularly in tracks like “All This Wanting” and “Maintain The Charade”. Many of the pieces are also peppered with bursts of sound that could only be described as the result of several toddlers being let loose in a room full of instruments and told to go hog wild. If random clangs and disembodied notes are intended to startle the listener to see if they’re still paying attention, they’re succeeding.
Part performance art, part experimental trip across the stars, and all wrapped in quirky musical mayhem, A Hound at the Helm is certainly a morsel of delight for niche music lovers everywhere. Pallett’s string arrangements are ornate and powerful (if a trifle painful at times), and the entire album is a moody journey through what can only be described as one of the more creative psyches that the Toronto music scene has to offer.