All year long, Laura Cannell & Kate Ellis have been releasing an EP on the final Friday of each month, which in horror terms might make them Final Girls. The proximity to Halloween proved too irresistible to resist, and so October Sounds enlists eager trick-or-treaters Milène Larsson, Adrian Crowley and Chris Watson to lend their costumes to these tracks. Since they are in turn a filmmaker, a songwriter and a field recordist, it all makes sense; in return, Cannell & Ellis pass them Special Edition Reese’s Peanut Butter Cups filled with dark string sounds.
The rain is already falling in the forest of Näcken, the crows cawing their solemn warning. The Näcken is a cross between the Pied Piper and a “river mermaid.” Larsson intones, “From the stream, she can hear a violin; there’s something in the music that makes her want to get closer to it.” No, child, no! We know how this story goes, yet we plunge into the intrigue. The melody is entrancing. Historically, the story was used to keep children safe by scaring them away from the water; an alternate story states that musicians made sacrifices to the Näcken in exchange for skill, yet as their talents grew, the people grew afraid. What would have happened to Cannell and Ellis during this dark age?
The first person “Blue is the colour” is not, as some might guess, a take on the classic “Black Is the Colour,” but a horrible inversion. A man is turning bluer and bluer day by day, first on the inside, then on the outside, calling to mind “The Picture of Dorian Gray” as his sanity slowly slips away. Adrian Crowley was inspired by a friend’s real-life experience, and perhaps only this friendship saves the tale from a dark end.
Chris Watson takes center stage on “Cloaked by Ravens Wings” and “Within the Forest Darkness,” capturing the sounds of ravens in Blair Atholl and tawny owls and roe deer in the midnight black of Northumberland’s Thrunton Woods. Listening to the pairing of forest creatures and strings, one wonders at the mind’s associations. Why do the violin and cello sound so foreboding here? Is it their connection to medieval times? Their mysterious, hard-to-tame nature? Their ability to shift from consonance to dissonance at the twist of a bow? Did “The Devil Went Down to Georgia” have an influence, or was the impression of the brimstone fiddler already established? In latter times, the organ (yes, the church organ) was also called the Devil’s instrument, as was the guitar (now a church staple). But as Larsson writes, perhaps the simple joy of music was hard to stomach when there was wood to be chopped and jam to be jarred. Given such context, the dark joy of Halloween music may roil traditional religious adherents while enticing others to dance around a crackling woodland fire. (Richard Allen)