House of Cosy Cushions is a collective in the mold of FareWell Poetry, including a leader, a core group of musicians, and a rotating cast of guests. Richard Bolhuis’ labor of love is difficult to categorize. The cover is blurry and the sound is even more so. The music crosses multiple genres, from rock and modern composition to drone and even pop. And while the words are sung instead of spoken, this is not a vocal album; two-thirds of the album are vocal-free.
The instrumental tracks are the most effective, as the vocals threaten to break the Spell. Opener “Mountain” mesmerizes with a low drone, an active harmonium and a swiftly-growing pulse that recedes just as it is ready to burst. But then we encounter “Ancient Rhyme”, which features lines such as “Gothic milkmaid, I’ll join your parade”. This is chased by album highlight “Black Bat Dance”, which features trancelike percussion, haunting viola and an emergent trombone, while winking an eye to the funk of Prince’s “Batdance”. The next track begins in mystical ambience, but yields the awkward couplet, “Girl in the insect dress, come and watch the monkeys with me.” Any thread of consistency is lost.
Fortunately, the music offers more than enough quality to justify one’s attention. Trombone is an underused instrument in the field, and its mournful quality places “Charlotte Salomon” in the region of Kilimanjaro Darkjazz Ensemble and Bohren and Der Club of Gore. The slow-burning “Into the Woods” sounds like sundown in a cultish forest. And the 8 1/2 minute closer, “Kerkje te Oostum” (“Church of Oostum”, shown in photo to the right), is worth the price of admission alone, with restrained viola atop hypnotizing loops. One need not know the title of the track nor the history of the church to feel the presence of the ancient. In the same manner as solid suspense suggests rather than shows, “Kerkje te Oostum” creates a blanket of scintillating dread without uttering a single word.
Multi-talented musicians often have a hard time sublimating any aspect of their talent. If one can sing, why not sing? If one can play multiple instruments, why not include them all? But the challenge is to concentrate on what one does best. House of Cosy Cushions is best with timbre and mood. With the talent represented here, we challenge the collective to go all-instrumental next time out. (Richard Allen)