Get Your Medieval Rocks Off with Helena Espvall and Masaki Batoh's Overloaded Ark

Posted by Kelly S. Osato, September 29, 2009 08:00am | Post a Comment
 Helena Espvall and Masaki Batoh second album overloaded ark on drag city
The last time Helena Espvall (of Espers) and Masaki Batoh (of Ghost) got together to create an album the end result resembled the kind of sound-tapestry two people of like-minded musical musings might weave over an ocean of space and time. Their first record (self-titled on Drag City) generated a quiet excitement from those of us at Amoeba familiar with the "new folk" weirdness of Espers and the psych-rock wyrdness of Ghost and seemed a sound-marriage of sorts where faded-about-the-edges Scandinavian tunes and other haunting works, both borrowed and original, mingled freely on relic-esque instruments. Nothing there suggests the kind of epic, blast-from-the-distant-past sonic onslaught of Overloaded Ark, Espvall and Batoh's second release on Drag City and the latest source of a new take on a very, very old favorite song. 
overloaded ark helena epsvall masaki batoh second album drag city
Overloaded Ark's opening track, titled "Little Blue Dragon," is a better known by the name of the merry dance it was originally composed for way back in 14th century Naples: the saltarello. It is played in a very fast triple-meter and named after its leading leap-step, in Italian, saltare. Of course, the composer credit for this song goes to the ubiquitous Anoymous who rules the bulk of any Early Music bin selections, but a version of the song, aptly titled "Saltarello," was made famous by that eclectic, neoclassical Australian band better known as Dead Can Dance (and if you've ever been to a Renaissance Faire or a Goth gathering where "dark" world music fits the rotation then I'll bet you a flagon of mead you've heard it before). Another version of the song, performed by Corvus Corax --- an outrageously outfitted German band who champion medieval music and authentic instruments, seems to share the same vein Espvall and Batoh tapped to give their "Little Blue Dragon" life. Espvall and Batoh's take on the Black Death era romp pounds out a feverish pace with traditional instrumentation at the forefront and electrified psychedelic meanderings fleshing out the background. It's really the perfect sort of aural "pants-ing" I felt I needed as a listener expecting to hear an extension of Espvall and Batoh's past works, only to be blown away with their new attitude. 

Overall the album is an enjoyable melange that combines haunted, free-roaming rhythmic jaunts (very much in the style of Ghost -- see above), dense meditative journeys by caravan (on "Overloaded Ark" and "Until Tomorrow"), sweet Swedish folk sustains revisiting the daydream feeling of their previous effort ("Vem Kan Selga"), a classically beautiful yet brief cello interlude by Espvall ("Pro Peccatis Suae Gentis / Nun Fa"), a delicate, music box-like ditty sung in French whispers ("Tourdion") and a cover of a Silvio Rodriguez tune, "Sueño Con Serpientes" played with the same ethereal, not-your-mom's-folk-record tones that made me fall instantly for Espvall and Batoh's pairings in the past. On the final track, "Sham no Umi," both artists sing a repeated refrain in Japanese-- "yoake mae no umi made" ("until the ocean before the dawn") -- while warm waves of instrumental echoes in guitars, pianos, strings and electric rays seem to embrace them. Given that so much of this record seems as though it could be filed under "heavy" in more ways that one, I love that the last note it lingers on resonates hopefully. I feel uplifted by it and ultimately it makes me want to return to side A and start the voyage all over again. I predict that this'll be the among the witchy records playing while I assemble my Hallowe'en costume this year.

Relevant Tags

Medieval Music (2), Psychedelic Rock (2), Japanese Rock (2), Swedish Folk (1), Ghost (8), Espers (6), Masaki Batoh (2), Helena Epsvall (1), Dead Can Dance (7), Drag City (14), Silvio Rodgriguez (1), Saltarello (1), Corvus Corax (1)