Ringing for the Begin Again - (LP, CD, download)
Wurld - (10" vinyl, DVD, download)
Sometimes you need to hear something odd. Times when the current heavy-rotation stuff that planted its claws in your eardrums on first listen (step forward, currently, The Decemberists and Iron and Wine) doesn't quite do the trick. Times when only the deliberately jarring, self-consciously arty, very possibly pretentious will do. May I introduce you to Elfin Saddle...?
They comprise a core duo of vocalists and multi-instrumentalists, Jordan McKenzie and Emi Honda, helped out by various supporting musicians. Originally from Vancouver Island, they've relocated to Montreal and found a congenial home at Constellation Records, alongside God Speed You! Black Emperor and their various associates.
Wurld is the best and most accessible way in. A beautiful package of 10" vinyl, plus DVD, postcards and various other inserts - and a numbered edition of 500, if collectors' salivary glands need any further stimulation...
At the heart of it all is a fifteen minute film featuring time-lapse footage of the growth and development of a model microcosm Emi and Jordan built in a Montreal backyard. You can watch it all on the DVD or listen to the instrumental soundtrack separately - and, for me, it works very well on its own. (I made a comparison earlier to the Incredible String Band, but on reflection the whimsical old hippies they most remind me of are the Third Ear Band. And that's a good thing, for those who didn't have the pleasure of their company back at the Clitheroe Pop Festival in 1972, or haven't heard their soundtrack to Roman Polanski's Macbeth.) But the film is definitely worth a look too - it looks like a version of Koyaanisqatsi commissioned by Watch with Mother. (And, yes, that is also a good thing.)
Your entrance fee also gets you a live concert video, and watching them in action - swapping around accordian, saw, ukelele, etc - is a good preparation for the apparently more conventional LP Ringing for the Begin Again.
There's more singing and straighter song structures here. Emi writes and sings in Japanese (with translations on the lyric sheet) and I prefer her high, breathy voice to Jordan's - though he gets his songs across effectively too. There's a good range of sounds with double bass/tuba, violin and trumpet joining the duo. It doesn't all work perfectly, but it's never less than interesting. Well worth a go, to cleanse your aural palate.