Soothsayer lyricism atop sinister guitars and eldritch electronics.
Paul Clarke 2011
Although the closest most have probably come to one is winning a goldfish from a coconut shy, the idea of the carnival continues to fire the imaginations of modern musicians. Of course, the name this group – consisting of Orcadian singer Erland Cooper, Gorillaz and ex-The Verve guitarist Simon Tong and Paul McCartney and David Gilmour’s sometime drummer-of-choice David Nock – chose made the fact they’d pitched up in the same territory that’s inspired Nick Cave’s The Carny and Pink’s Funhouse – to name two wildly different examples – plain enough. However, if any doubts remained, the demented organs and psilocybin-soaked psychedelia of Erland and the Carnival’s 2010 self-titled debut album made for a veritable Gothic freakshow in itself.
Arriving barely a year later, Nightingale paints another shadowy backdrop of sinister guitars and eldritch electronics for Erland’s soothsayer lyricism, which once again reimagines traditional folk tales for contemporary times. Emmeline is a disturbing tale of a missing girl that evokes both Alice in Wonderland and the case of Maddie McCann; the title-track is an allegorical paean to the titular bird which ends like Mogwai soundtracking a fairground ride; whilst Dream of the Rood sets images from one of the oldest poems in the English language to music as cobwebbed as some Saxon tome.
Yet although there’s much here that’s fairly Brothers Grimm, parts of Nightingale also have the same quasi-Dickensian atmosphere as Tong’s former project The Good, The Bad and The Queen. That might be partly due to them recording the album in the belly of a boat on the Thames, something seemingly manifest in the electronics reverberating around the album like sonar signals or messages at a séance. But it’s more that the most affecting lyrics on tracks like first single Map of an Englishman, Springtime or East and West are where Erland sounds like he’s fishing in a river of tears flowing through the city rather than ancient folklore. For the simple way he intones "Some moments you change / Some moments you don’t" on Nothing Will Remain shows that the true spectres haunting his Carnival are the worldly ones of loss and regret, more than anything from beyond the grave.