Wednesday, September 3, 2008

The Ghost in the Gramophone: Bella Koshka's Slow Dancing on the Ocean Floor

Minneapolis-based band Bella Koshka has the honour of being my 100th post, and I'm quite glad my 100th post is a truly independent band of this calibre. Dreamily describing themselves as "A dusty violin and the diary of a girl. A tale of two dreamers and their stories lost in time," consists of violinist Hilary Davis, vocalist Laura Boland, drummer Matte Franklin, guitarist Matt Vannelli and bassist Tim Ritter. Their influences include Danny Elfman, Bat For Lashes, Patrick Wolf, Cocteau Twins, Kate Bush, IAMX and M83, and I can definitely hear the darker, ethereal moments of all these artists in their sound. They are like the ghost trapped in the gramophone.

First track, Compass, is an instrumental with an organ and violin backed by shadowy noises and accented by bells that twinkle like fairylights in the darkness. The subsequent track, Relic, begins with rock guitars, but takes an unexpected turn with Boland's whispering but slightly operatic vocals and Davis's droning violin, becoming a romantic lament; then electronic elements kick in to create the feeling of a dusty attic crackling with supernatural static. Fiction definitely could have been a Patrick Wolf track with its fusing of lonely violin and electronic surges, expressing an elegant elegy for longing and forming an image of a windswept moor or beach in my mind. With a shift into trickling arpeggios, Paint the Sky is a briefer track that lilts along like a antique doll coming to life and finding its legs. Coma showcases the Kate Bush aspect of Boland's voice as it ebbs and flows, and the guitars add a sense of urgency to the delicious melancholy of the violin. Replicant tells the story of someone wilting and turning cold, splintering into his/her lover's arms, and the electronic buzzes, the sliding of the violin bow, and the light drums emphasize this icy fragility as the narrator disintegrates.

Home begins with a reverby organ and violin combination that evokes a cavernous gothic cathedral and all those decadent, wicked impulses associated with Catholicism and its deliberate obfuscations and pertinent sense of guilt. The song continues with breathy vocals overlaid on each other and reverby rhythms that envelop you in a hypnotic haze. Echo starts with discordant violin strains that persist to pulse beneath an interchange of lines Boland has with herself while the following track, Treasure, is a more dramatic affair with angry downbeats which sometimes dissipate to reveal a more languid style as Boland's voice arches its back like a contented cat. Stitches is an airier, fluttering song like an old wind-up butterfly flying about in the dust motes of a shaft of light. The album closes with Anchor, which begins with piano and pregnant pauses and moves into Tori Amos-like pairing of the keys and vocals. Anchor enchants and cradles you like a lover as it propels you in a slow dance embrace across a ballroom floor in Miss Havisham's house, ending in a phantom-like crackle.

Overall, Slow Dancing on the Ocean Floor is a theatrical but delicate debut, expressing both longing and despair, dreams and escape. As its apt title suggests, the record does feel like it has held you to the sea floor, where all motions are graceful, even those of the drowning. Bella Koshka is currently doing shows in and around their hometown, including a support slot for Cruxshadows, so if you're nearby, find yourself some tickets. Their music has an antiquated beauty about it while fusing the old with elements of the electrical age, reminding me of the magic of the first, turn-of-the-century industrial music.

Bella Koshka's MySpace:
Bella Koshka's Web site:


PlasticSmile said...

Hey there,

Thanks for sharing this. I got all excited when I saw the cover, being that it is reminiscent of 23 Envelope artwork, which greatly influenced my graphic work, and that I'm a 4AD whore. I think I'd put this band in the His Name is Alive pile, which is ok.

You really seem to know your stuff and your blog's really well put together, so I'll be subscribing to see what other treats I can pick up. I also tried to download one of the Bloc Party tracks, but it apparently expired right when I went to do so!

Anyhoo, THANKS!

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