Hewers of Wood and Drawers of Water: a varied album of dark folk, apocalyptic visions and unexpected toughness

Kiss the Anus of a Black Cat, Hewers of Wood and Drawers of Water, Zeal, zealcdee 029 (2010)

It took me a long while to get a review of this album up on TSP but finally I did it. A very stark and darkly melancholy recording this is too, brimming with feeling too deep to fully express, and what is not expressed directly in the vocals, the printed lyrics or in the spare acoustic guitar melodies is present in the silences behind the music.  KTAOABC is the child of one Stef Heeren, a Belgian musician who makes a lot of his own instruments but usually relies on his voice and acoustic guitar; indeed the title track gets by on just voices and guitar for most of its length as do several other, mostly short songs.

The first three songs on the album set the pace: “Hewers of Wood …” is a simple yet emotionally dark and deep piece that might contain a serious morality tale about the failings of human nature in its apparently simple nursery-rhyme lyrics. Heeren is a surprisingly strong singer with an urgent, almost wailing style and the music matches the feeling in his voice: robust rhythms, a distinctive melody with a force and vitality all its own in most songs, and equally intense moods enhanced by sinister organ or other keyboards played by various guest musicians. “Argonaut and magneto” strains at its leashes, yearning to burst out in full agonised cry but Heeren keeps it in check though the lyrics suggest a kind of Southern Gothic rural murder mystery somewhere in the remote Appalachians.

Some songs have a whiffy exotic foreign or psychedelic influence as though Heeren had spent a childhood or adolescence backpacking around India and Southeast Asia and spent most of his nights at temples listening to travelling musical troupes playing droning sitar ragas and thumping tablas at all-night jam sessions. “Veneration” feels like such a song in its rhythm. Other songs may be possessed of an apocalyptic vision (“Feathers of the wings of the angel Gabriel”) in lyrics and twangy bluegrass tunes that would raise the hairs on the back of Nick Cave’s neck.

For a dark folk album, the music is varied and surprisingly tough, even aggressive, at times and would suit a metalhead as much as it would an audience brought up on Comus, Nick Cave and his various bands, and Six Organs of Admittance. I also sense some kinship with some of those eccentric acts like Brothers of the Occult Sisterhood that made up the Kyogle avant-country music scene that I reviewed some years ago and which were on the Music your mind will love you label. Now that KTAOABC have jolted my memory, I wonder what became of them all – the MYMWLY label has shut down indefinitely.

Contact: Zeal