In the face of an ever-decreasing legitimate folk culture, western musicians from the Netherlands to Brazil have seen fit to redistribute tidbits of the world’s found sounds in new skins. The results are arguably folk, in that the music ultimately belongs to everybody and doesn’t necessarily require tremendous skill. Fursaxa (a.k.a. Tara Burke) and Espers are two cases in point. Utilizing a variety of other plucked strings, keyboard drones, otherworldly vocal incantations and percussion, they’ve managed to split open at the seams the music of the Incredible String Band or Serpent Power.
Yet, as Burke and Espers’ Helena Espvall have done for Anahita, the end results ultimately owe as much to the Tuvan bowed Igil, Sun Ra’s “Strange Strings” or a Rajasthani sufi with a harmonium as either of the above folk legends. And the best tracks here, “Pirin Planina” and “Velvet Shoon,” rely on the same universal ommmmm that a Balochistani Suroz player might conjure while inducing trance.
As for the music itself, Anahita’s touch is gentle, considerate and truly pretty. It invites comparisons to the Finish Fonal label scene or even the Taj Mahal Travelers’ sustained hush. Yet, like Finland’s Lau Nau, it owes much of its allure to Burke and Espvall’s vocals, which seem to crawl out of the sounds themselves, harmonizing with the elongated passages before spiraling off into space. Some tracks appear fully formed, others seem to eternally idle. Espvall’s cello playing is intensely minimal, perhaps to better compliment Burke’s hesitant, child-like string plunks.
The dilemma with Matricaria is its absence of form. It works best when the pair rides on long stretches of sustained sounds. When tracks de-emphasize this approach and rely instead on clunky, repetitive drumming or wavering moans, it can sound like the Burke and Espvall are just biding their time until the next wave of inspiration hits. This is fine in the studio, but less so in terms of a finished product.