These Feathers Have Plumes – Corvidae (Tartaruga)

Artist: These Feathers Have Plumes
Title: Corvidae
Label: Tartaruga, UK
Details: Ltd. CD/DL. 5 tracks / 42 mins. Available from
www.tartarugarecords.com

Tartaruga Records have garnered quite a reputation for their packaging. Little wonder, since their CDs are more like pieces of art than simple music packages. Their latest release by These Feathers Have Plumes, a London-based collective, is no different. And it’s strictly limited to 100 copies, although a download version will be available come September.

To be honest, if all their records came in plain paper bags they would still be something special. If there is a label sound, it’s the sound of both classically trained and spirited artisans exploring new ways of making music, and pushing things in new directions. And this is almost always successfully achieved without sacrificing the music’s soul for the sake of a mere intellectual exercise.

Corvidae is the family name for crows and their relatives (magpies, rooks, jays, ravens etc). It’s a family that has historically always spooked humans for some reason. Perhaps it’s because being looked at by a crow is not like being looked at by most other creatures. There’s that feeling of being observed. Coupled with the jet black plumage and slightly unnerving cry, it’s little wonder that people in more superstitious times associated the birds with all sorts of dark and supernatural properties.

The Corvidae family is comprised of the most intelligent of all birds, and possibly all creatures outside of our primate cousins. They are well known for tool making, problem solving and having a sense of self rarely seen in the animal kingdom (they can identify themselves in a mirror, a skill previously thought unique to the great apes and one not developed in humans until they are between the ages of two and three). This probably just adds to the sense of unworldliness – after all, birds are supposed to be, well, bird-brained.

These Feathers Have Plumes concentrate on the myth rather than the reality. The crows here are foreboding, dark and slightly threatening, and the album concludes with a poem by Jessica Denton called The Cold which has all the spooked supernatural elements in place.

The music itself is out of the BJ Nilsen school of atmospheric drones, field recordings and the like, slowly unfolding in multi-layered slabs of sound. There are loads of low frequencies, with contrabass drones almost to the bottom of the instrument’s register, but also lighter harmonics such as the glass harmonica giving the music a sense of balance. Field recordings and found sounds are used judiciously and melt into the overall mix rather than sticking out. Obviously crow calls are used, but sparingly. And yes, they do sound dark and uncomfortable in this context.

This is a really accomplished record, and one that bears many repeated spins. It may favour atmosphere over melody, but this is intricately constructed music. There’s only 100 physical copies so go to www.tartarugarecords.com asap!

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