Sympathetic Stupid

Tuesday, September 06, 2005

Oliver Mann: Sings

Oliver Mann most certainly does sing. This scary-beautiful album marries folk songs and classical music to beget a chimera dissimilar to either.

As the title suggests, Mann's voice is the centerpiece. He's classically trained as an operatic bass, but the range of his voice belies this; A Book is the better part of three octaves above Swan-Singing, but he sounds equally comfortable - and flawless - in either register. The sparse instrumentation and clarity of production pushes his voice and stories to the top of every track, with the exception of Swan-Singing which is a pastiche of samples, mandolin, squeaking clarinet and background voices. The track reminds me of nothing so much as Mr Bungle's The Bends, Mike Patton being a completely different vocalist but with a similarly wide-ranging musical sensibility. All this, and an Australian accent, something you don't hear much on any recording.

Herringbone Blues was the track that drew me in to the album. A fishing fable comparable to any other, Mann tells the poignant story of his trip to pick up herring for to feed his sleeping family, and his encounter with a trawler, against his "solemn wish". The accompaniment on mandolin and guitar builds up to a rootsy blues at the climax, before dying away; and the multi-tracked vocal accompaniment is special.

The other great track is Shoe Of Leather, an epic fable. The narrator is arrested in Beijing for carrying smack, escapes from prison and has to walk to Hong Kong, vocalising his musings as he walks, an excuse for Mann to go on a seemingly improvised jaunt above the solid guitar accompaniment. Mann's whimsical, slightly surreal narratives are as much a drawcard as the music and special voice, for mine.

A magnificent, unexpected ride through the world.