Moulettes Constellations, The folk-prog-classical band is back to expand their sound with a touch of the oriental.

Label: Proper Music
Time: 10 Tracks / 45 minutes

As soon as this album starts, it could only be one band. The distinctive harmonies, percussive style and unique approach to melody all point one way. Many artists would give an organ for such a clear identity. But one identity does not mean only one sound. Like a painting made from a huge array of colours, this band of multi-instrumentalists (playing bassoon, auto-harp, sax, harp, cello and percussion, et al) brings a labyrinth of twists and turns to their music.

When touring this release, main writer, singer, cellist and guitarist Hannah Miller often looked sideways to her band-mates with a smile of pure enjoyment. It was like she was experiencing a dream fulfilled – and some of her dreams are dark. There has always been a slightly psychotic underside to the band's music and it comes out clearly on "Lady Vengeance", a piece with Arthur Brown's vocal hues adding a dash of the unhinged to lyrics that talk of burning down with the threat, "Look where you have ended up, ended up!" A bassoon riff that sounds like something from Van der Graaf Generator adds to the tongue-in-cheek menace.

Then, like a murderer who returns to a public place and cooly engages in genial chatter, the menace of "Lady Vengeance" is followed by a retro waltz, which probably owes more to Eliza Carthy. This is how diverse the band is.

Miller insists that her mind creates heavenly sounds as well as dark ones, and this is true. While there is none of the pure, flowing balladry of tracks like "Songbird" on this release, the title track hangs a hammock in the ears and happily lazes there for hours and days at a time. "So It Goes" also has its catchy side. All these elements that have made critics and fans alike perk their ears up are still present, but this time there is also an extra touch of the oriental, most clearly heard in the wispily delicate "Land of the Midnight Sun."

The band's reputation has spread far in the last couple of years; hence guest turns from artists as popular and diverse as The Unthanks (on "Elegy," with lush strings), Arthur Brown and Herbie Flowers.

For all the Moulettes' inventive genius and musical talent, it is still frustrating that several tunes are unnecessarily complicated. Eschewing simple hooks can ironically turn their resourceful flair into a banal sameness at times. It would not be fair to ask them to turn into a pop band – something they could probably do immensely well – but less irregularity would make it as much a physical joy to listen to as it is a cerebral one.

The Moulettes' world is a fantastic place, full of the surreal, and driven by a passion to avoid anything predictable. For those who love unpeeling layers, this has enough to occupy the ears for months.

Derek Walker

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