Stille Volk


Hantoama

Stille Volk - Hantoama ©1996 Holy Records
1. Ajunt De Bruixes
2. Leherenn
3. La Chasse Au Cerf
4. Hesta Dera Gagnolis
5. Ode Aux Lointains Souverains
6. Crepuscule Des Encatats
7. Esprits Des Bois
8. Les Parques De La Lune
9. Hantaoma
10. Dans Les Confins S'en Retourna
11. Muscaria
12. Les Chants De Pyrene
13. L'aube Des Encatats
14. La Trompuso
15. La Complainte De Milharis
16. Pleurs
17. Neu

The debut album by French avant-garde folk act Stille Volk, Hantoama is a somewhat interesting aural experience. When I first purchased it I had mixed feelings about the album; I wasn't entirely sure what to make of Stille Volk's mixture of Pyrenees folk music and strange experimental elements. With time I was won over by the band's exotic musical blend. The music has a tendency to sneak up on the skeptical listener, winning them over just when they're sure they totally hate the album.

Right from the opening baritone vocal lines, I realized the album was going to be an interesting listen. The first song "Ajunt de Bruixes" would be a capella if not for the slight droning instrument in the background. The vocals here are thick and throaty for the most part, with harmonic layering of higher vocals in parts. This serves as an intro and empties right into the second track, which begins with a funky cuckoo sound and warm acoustic guitars. After the brief intro, the percussion kicks in (blocks, bells, etc.), as well as a playful wind instrument and two low voices singing in harmony. Towards the middle of the song, the tempo shifts dramatically and the music becomes fast and jaunty, with wild animal-like calls and an almost comical spoken voice. The song is surprisingly complex and varied, given the expectations one usually has about folk music.

The band is only a three piece, but each member is a multi-instrumentalist. Lafforgue handles the various wind instruments (soprano and alto flute, ocarina, crumhorn, etc.) and singing, Roques the string instruments (Spanish guitar, 12 and 6 string guitars, Mandolin and Violin), and Arexis the spoken word and various percussive instruments (Bodrahm drums, bongo, vibra slap, tambourine, shakers, Cymbals, Congas etc.). The album is quite varied, with extended natural soundscapes and some rather strange avant-garde songs. Track eleven "Muscaria" is a very strange work with an intense droning sound and a very odd (animal-like) mix on the vocals- songs such as this mark the album with an exotic, otherworldly edge that is lacking on most "normal" folk music records.

The overall album is vibrant and alive, with an atmosphere invoking an idealized medieval world (a lot of the music sounds like the French Romances) and the natural majesty of the mountains of southern France. You can almost smell the coniferous vegetation on this record, and it's a must for journeys into the mountains. I will confess that the album has its share of strange moments, but for those daring listeners who like some exotic flavor in their stew, this is definantly not a bad thing.

Review by James Slone

Review date: 03/2000

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Exuvies

Stille Volk - Exuvies ©1998 Holy Records
1. Zoopathia
2. Ténébrante Azurée
3. Chimères
4. Selena Koronna
5. Luna Mecania
6. Théâtrophone Abscons
7. Exuvie Bizarre
8. Dans I'...

The follow-up to Hantoama, Exuvies is one strange, wonderful album. I expected more experimentation and general weirdness, but not quite to the degree present on this album. The Pyrenees folk music is still there, but now there's also a whole assortment of other influences, namely progressive rock, death metal, industrial, electronic music, noise and ambient. Rock percussion and bass lines now form the back bone of the music, and there's a prominent spot for the electric guitar and sampling as well. Exuvies is a beautiful experience, a marriage of the rural with the urban, the ancient with the modern, and the subtle with the over-the-top. Serenity and edginess collide.

The songs vary greatly, each song self-inclusive and driven by its own internal logic. The first song has a progressive rock vibe, with subtle rock guitar and percussion. Folk instruments provide the hooks and melody lines; the song takes a sudden turn towards stranger territories in the latter half of the piece, with a change so sudden and unpredictable that the listener is unaware of any change until it's right on top of them. Tracks two and three are both infused with heavy electronic influences and sampling. Track four is straight forward folk music driven by acoustic guitars, while track five and six are heavily influenced by death metal and industrial music. Track five is a very eclectic composition, alternating between folk, rock, death metal, electronic music and sampling. Track six features some rather intense industrial droning, and is one of the few existing examples of music that is truly suspenseful. Track seven plays like a combination of progressive rock, melodic metal and very clean folk music. Track eight is a fairly forgettable outro track; it's not bad, simply unimpressive in light of the album proceeding it.

It should be fairly apparent that this is a strange album. It is also surprisingly dark and urban. It's almost like hearing natural and pure music drained of its connection to the country, broken down and reassembled for a modern audience wholly alienated from the wilderness. It's like folk music for the city dwellers. Every time I listen to it I get this jarring, contradictory image of pastoral fields superimposed on a neon cityscape. Folk music purists will hate it, but I dig it.

Review by James Slone

Review date: 03/2000

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