Staad ~ Staad

The key to Staad (Silent) is its authenticity.  The artist (also known as Staad) has spent the last couple years researching the history of the alpine areas, inspired by a family connection and a desire to dig deep.  This project combines archival recordings (some on wax cylinder) with field recordings, and traditional music with newly recorded accordion, alphorn and zither.  While listening, it’s difficult to separate the old from the new, an intentional collage.

The cover art is darker than one might expect given the description: a swift way to separate Staad’s music from that of Julie Andrews.  The album recalls a time in which herders communicated from peak to peak by wooden horn, danced in the valleys wearing Krampus masks, played chimes and bells, and yes ~ we have to mention it ~ yodeled.  The Alpine image has been co-opted by companies such as Ricola, whose ads feature mountaineers blowing Alphorns to advertise cough drops.  Staad seeks to change that, and to steer people to a more realistic view of alpine life: the harsh beauty of its pre-Christian history.

The music feels both ancient and new.  A religious character is relayed through prayers, chants and chimes, backed by deep drones that could only come from the modern era.  A blessing is bestowed, along with a pair of funeral calls and the practice of ritual whipping (best left in the past).  Today’s herders are still lonely, although perhaps less so, now able to play games on their devices (if they can get service).  The sound of cowbells passes intact from one millennium to the next.

At the beginning of the album, the rain is falling, the clouds are lurking, and life seems bitter and hard.  But by “Totenlied” (which perhaps ironically is translated as “Agony,” the clouds seem to lift for a spell.  The sun comes out, the violin plays, a singer remembers a loved one, and heaven – or some some of afterlife, at least – seems open.  Then in “Erweckung” (“Revival”), the opposite seems to occur, which may cause some listeners to check the titles.  A sluggish pace is met by marching chains and angry cries.  This too is a funeral, the mourners’ spirits facing different directions.

“Der Wilde Mann” (“The Wild Man”) is a huge highlight, a stomping, warlike dance.  This is the most obvious yodeling we’ve heard since The Orb’s Alpine, and while we enjoyed that EP, we were also a bit uncomfortable with the mainstreaming of the cry.  This is the real alpine life, not the one suggested by old York Peppermint Patty commercials (later satirized in The Family Guy).  The area is rich in tradition, much of it lost to modern audiences, some of it recovered here.  The title track wraps it all in a bow, the crackle of wax a form of modern nostalgia, a quiet melody leading to a final silence.  When the sounds disappear, the cold air rushes in.  (Richard Allen)

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