With a French name for a common bird and an album title alluding to journeying, metamorphosis and reaching to light, Mésange convey a great deal of imagery, themes and ideals in three short words. The captivating sounds this UK-based duo produce on Gypsy Moth call to this sense of the transient, the malleable ~ ultimately, the undefinable. These are soundscapes without names or borders.
Using just a violin and electric guitar, Agathe Max and Luke Mawdsley conjure a kind of kosmische drone meets experimental chamber music. The mood they create with such a minimalist setup is unfeasibly encompassing, at times oppressive and intoxicating. “The Return” is built on thick slabs of curmudgeonly guitar, above which soar violin and harmonic lines sounding at times in flight, at others in fight. Squeals and the occasional harmonised hook only add to the hazy, confusing canvas confronting us.
The lack of definition in Gypsy Moth is its salient characteristic. This is true both in its delivery ~ how string lines lyrical and mystical cavort around each other to the point where each instrument is a slow-moving blur ~ and in how we receive it. We are swept through moods ill-defined or in conflict, not just across pieces but within the pieces themselves. The opener, “Gypsy Moth”, is expectant ~ almost hopeful ~ with quick, repeating violin sweeps like chicks calling to their parents. Behind these are layers of harmonics that evoke the celestial, but with fragmentary string melodies carrying a faintly mournful air. The instruments and their multiple voices beckon us alluringly in different directions. Do we reach toward the light or lurch into the dark? We end up somewhere in between ~ somewhere unknown.
Abstract echoes of or calls to nature spill into the set throughout. The gradual sunrise of “Apricot Daylight” commences with a gentle, percussive-tinged refrain like a herd of animals in contented communion. A higher line then joins in. The herd is joined by a different beast, yet all is still at peace. In contrast, the black, stormy night of “Foe” broods and screeches through ominous guitar chords and warbling, distorted violin. A voice like an incantation sounds, determined yet controlled; eerie at first, then soothing – a calm constant amid increasing frenzy. Breaking up these tracks is the set highlight. Much as the overdriven guitar grounds the piece as is develops, “Stars” is very much a child of the skies, framed by a soothing, polyphonous melody that binds the duo, inseparably. We bask in their protracted union as they raise ever higher. Has the light finally prevailed?
Aptly, closer “Summer Snow” is ambivalent. Though soothing and infectious, the clean guitar refrain the piece is formed around even sounds like a question. Is the sight of snow in summer one of rare beauty (the light) or rare perversion (the dark)? Violin lines ebb and flow; guitar harmonics wail and are comforted; layers of ambience gather and disperse, some throbbing, others cleansing. All the while the guitar keeps posing the same, unanswered question ~ a meditation that cleanses the mind…
… And makes us see that the answer was clear from the start! For like the titular moth, Mésange are at comfort in darkness, yet remain drawn inexplicably to the light. Both sustain. (Chris Redfearn-Murray)