15 Mar 2009 // A review by Daniel Boom
I've been listening to the album The Seahorse Emporium by Ragamuffin Children. It's actually the first album I've ever heard. I was born last Monday and spent most of last week being potty trained and studying English. Then I got offered the opportunity to review albums for the muzic.net.nz site and th
I've been listening to The Seahorse Emporium by Ragamuffin Children. This album is their second; I haven't properly heard the first (Werecat Lullabies). I did initially hear five songs on My Space, three from the first album (and two from The Seahorse Emporium). "Reading The Stones" is good. But "More Of Me", that separates the women from the girls. Well arranged. Shuffle-like rhythm. Strong melody, movement and dynamics. Incisive lyrics. Well phrased. Tension just before arriving at a sober, resigned chorus. The clever simplicity of a good pop song. Not that it has to, but I imagine the song to be pliant enough to handle different treatments (eg. Pop, Country, R&B) It's a goodun. Probably the only of theirs I could imagine on commercial radio. Although I don’t think hit making is their goal.
Onto the album. This sounds a bit like ensemble music, due to the presence of certain instruments that could be associated with jazz, classical, or folk combos (clarinet, violin, cello, piano, accordion, double bass). This isn't a Rock
album (it would scare
MTV). It’s not ensemble music either; it is vocal oriented. There's studio added sounds (e.g. teaspoon on dishware in "Teatime", rasping bow-on-violin in "Sleep"). There’s space. Elbow room. You can put an elbow in, put an elbow out - put an elbow in and shake it all about. Space: it's used. Or maybe it ISN'T. Have it your way... The group was presented to me as Folk music. But folk to me is pre industrial-age music, or certain music that was made before recording was possible. OR songs with a social message. Just because there’s acoustic instruments, I wouldn’t call it folk. Maybe I’d call it a tossed salad of instrumental ideas!
My favourite song is "A Fine Storm". For one thing, there’s a pulse. And sonic depth. In the foreground: a crisp, steady acoustic guitar part, with more muted electric piano tones. Interesting vocals with a chorus warning you to "Go quick, before the wind catches you-oo...". In the background: atmospheric acoustic piano fills; howling slide guitar. But through everything, there’s an astonishing synthesizer part, providing bass, plus an octave-jumping, siren-like effect and sustained-note fills further into the song. In isolation, the synthesizer is pure 1970s prog-rock era (think Rick Wakeman, King Crimson, Alan Parsons). Three other songs I like are "Snakes" (clever timing), "Digging Holes" and "Seahorses" (nice strings).
"Teatime" is my least favourite song. What can I say about it? It sucks the kumara. No feeling, let alone groove. No harmonic movement. Dull melody. "Teatime, for the Gods..." "...they'll take every diamond ring and jewel...". They'll also steal 2 minutes 50 from your life. They're subject to doing that. Watcha gonna do, shake your tiny mortal fist? Other songs that didn't do it for me were "Better Than Some", "Tincans", "Even Gold", "Sleep" and "Following The Leader".
I can guess that Ragamuffin Children are aware that music can be full of surprises if you get past the sensibilities and trends, and I admire them for not trying to paint by numbers.