Gretchen Lohse. Primal Rumble. 2013.
Gretchen Lohse is a Philadelphia native, and recently released her first solo album. She’s trained on the violin, but also plays a number of other instruments, and turns VHS home-videos into a source of sound for her work. Previously performing in Yellow Humphrey, the Philadelphia psychedelic folk group, the tone she has now is more accessible but still other-worldly.
All Around the River starts out even-handed and doesn’t shock your system, just helps your ears settle into what’s going to be a lovely ride through the audio equivalent of Dali’s “Persistence of Memory.” Following this up with a gorgeous, melodic voice accompanied by guitar and synthesizer, is Two Travelers, which slows down to bleed into Garment. This piece has a few different themes woven together to create a blanket of sound that wraps around you like a favorite sweatshirt. The Role of Rabbits has solid string work, and softened vocals, to evoke a more traditional folky sound. On the heels of this comes Ornament of the Enamoured Heart, a soulfully sweet ballad sounding tune. Rings has some similarities with Abigail Washburn, especially her Song of the Traveling Daughter. On a slightly lower register and minor key comes Bonesetter. While there isn’t really an eerie quality to this song, as the name might suggest, it isn’t quite of this world, either; her voice on this piece is by far my favorite display of the album, with full-bodied sound throughout, interspersed with some challenging parts that show Lohse’s abilities. The Cuckoo has a beautifully rich play of flutes and strings, and the flutes do an excellent job of mimicking the avian mimic for which the song is named. Spider at the Gate is closer to her psych-folk previous work than most of the rest of the album, and brings the silent movie influences Lohse mentions in the disc description to the fore. Ending the album near where it began is Primal Rumble, which isn’t primal or rumble-y at all, but well written and performed, for sure.
The album, with the artwork, evoke “2001: A Space Odyssey” at times, and has that story-telling-with-a-touch-of-odd down pat. I say that as a huge compliment; this world needs a little touch of odd every once in a while to make us question what we know.
Personnel: Gretchen Lohse (vocals, strings), Naeemah Maddox (flute), Thomas Hughes (synthesizer)
Tracks: All Around the River, Two Travelers, Garment, The Role of Rabbits, Ornament of the Enamoured Heart, Rings, Bonesetter, The Cuckoo, Spider at the Gate, Primal Rumble