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Erland & The Carnival - Nightingale

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Artist: Erland & The Carnival

Album: Nightingale

Label: Yep Roc

Review date: Mar. 30, 2011

Erland & The Carnival combine moody but catchy British folk ballads with mild psych-fuzzed guitar riffs, buzzing electronica and a tightly controlled sense of swagger. Bringing together the instrumental talents of ex-Verve guitarist Simon Tong and pedigreed session drummer David Nock, among others, front-man Erland Cooper presides over an ensemble that, at its limits, verges on Steeleye Span or Pentangle as covered by Phoenix. This indie-rock redux of traditional folk-rock is often club-ready, and sometimes even danceable. Cooper performs a fair share of slow burners — whether crooning over ordinary finger-picking (“East and West”) or nearly cooing in lo-fi space (“Dream of the Road,” “Nothing Can Remain”). Yet occasionally — as on the standout “Map of an Englishman” — jittery IDM-style blips and swirls give way to thumping bass and backbeat that tangle with eerily addictive choral backing and countermelodies for guitar or keyboard.

The second album in two years for Erland & The Carnival, Nightingale doesn’t stray far from its fine self-titled predecessor. But the debts to Scottish, Welsh and English folk are now more seamlessly woven into a sound that is securely contemporary, if still replete with allusions to old balladry. Whereas Erland & The Carnival’s debut featured four traditional songs and a cover of Jackson C. Frank’s “My Name is Carnival” (which gave the group part of its name, and this reviewer a favorable disposition toward Erland from the get-go), Nightingale is basically all originals. (“Emmeline” is a medley, and “I’m Not Really Here” riffs on the words of the spiritual “Nobody Knows the Trouble I’ve Seen”).

The integration of past and present is tightest on the album’s finest moments. Nothing here outdoes “Map of an Englishmen,” but the slinky and propulsive “Springtime” and “This Night” similarly push past the stiltedness that often results when folk traditionals try on rock arrangements. Amid hard emphases on beats two and four and instrumental melodic fragments running every which way, Cooper’s anachronistically refined, accented tenor — which could be the voice of Shirley Collins’s rock and roll nephew — sounds not so much stiff as endearingly otherworldly.

Folk revivals take many forms. But since Dylan did it all, there has been a pervasive (if somewhat nauseating) tendency to confuse folk proper with any old pop music performed by a “sensitive” singer-songwriter on acoustic guitar — or worse, with orchestral strings in place of banjo and fiddle. Clearly steeped in the great tradition of the British folk song, yet able to combine its structure and ethos with rock rebellion from both classic psych and more recent guitar rock, Erland & The Carnival’s Nightingale is a distinctive exemplar of folk revivalism for the age of indie.

By Benjamin Ewing

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