One would be hard-pressed not to like this album; in fact, one would need to be a total curmudgeon. Adorned by the artist’s own stylized woodcuts, Earthen Birth By (not, as some might expect, Earthen Birth, by) is instantly endearing, a return to the “psychedelic ukelele skiffle” found on last year’s debut album from Craig Martin Wood (Henry the Rabbit), Year of the Rabbit. Few contemporary artists showcase the ukulele – only Fighting Lion and Haiku Salut come to mind as those covered by our site – and most of them live in Hawai’i. In recent years, the instrument has made a slow recovery from the damage done to it by a certain vertically challenged performer, and most now consider it to be a worthy companion to like-minded instruments, especially the glockenspiel (also showcased by the aforementioned groups) and in this case, the shaker and organ. Twee these may be, but no longer dismissible. Happy music – handclaps and light ahhhs included – is tailor-made for public gatherings, and Earthen Birth By sounds like a lost recording from the world’s coolest Renaissance Festival.
Happiness is also a recurring theme in Wood’s other project, Halasan Bazar, who last year released an album titled How to Be Ever Happy. Space pop and whimsical lyrics are the name of the game for that larger band, which features mandolin and flute alongside more traditional rock instruments. While listening, one gains the impression that Copenhagen has more to offer than Efterklang. Are all their bands like this? If not, we don’t want to know; the fantasy may encourage a bout of global travel.
Save for the stuttering, experimental closing piece, Earthen Birth By is tremendously accessible, a warm collection of miniatures that top out at two-three minutes. The organ of “Black Tortoise of the North” sounds somewhat like a theremin, another instrument which would not have seemed out of place here. “Rabbit Hole” executes a cheerful waltz, revisited on multiple tracks, while “Balcony” treads the experimental pavement more effectively than the title track, tilting into an understated finale. Henry the Rabbit has found his hutch, and he’s well worth the carrots. (Richard Allen)