Album Review: Collectress – Mondegreen

Collectress are a band of musicians who make beautiful music, beautifully.

Well, I wanted something hardcore, something extreme, something chugging and violent to review this week (what with my last two reviews being relatively sedate instrumental fare) but truthfully nothing grabbed me the way Mondegreen, by Collectress (usually rendered C O L L E C T R E S S) did. They’re a funny bunch, Collectress – literary, knowing, witty, arch, while being sincere and very, very talented – composing angelic ditties with a slight hint of malice, and a keen ear for experimentalism. Their willingness to mix traditional musicality with musique concrete is what makes them stand out from the pack, and such field recordings and found sounds make their music all the more like the soundtrack to some forgotten TV series than it would anyway.

It’s funny how people instinctively turn their nose up at this sort of chamber music as too high faluting, but have no qualms when it’s used as incidental music in TV shows. The mainstream audience understands and reacts to the emotional cues that the music provides, yet when confronted with it on record, absent of visuals, it becomes pretentious and impenetrable, or boring. I find it stunning that anyone could listen to Mondegreen and find it anything other than completely charming and whimsical, but then maybe someone who couldn’t find room in their life for this album is someone with whom you might want to reconsider your relationship. A bit of Collectress in your ear-holes on your morning drive/ride/tube would set you off on the right foot.

They create a mysterious sound with the mixture of traditional instruments and synthesisers they use. According to their website, the track Mouseclover “plays with movement in space, physical and harmonic”, which is very true, but it doesn’t quite reveal the level of malice inherent in that repetitive, insistent synth line, which when combined with breathy, wordless harmonising makes for an eerie walk home, only made jumpier by the sudden tempo change of Whitechapel (Hat in the Ring), which combines intricate xylophone with a positively Black Beauty-ish flourish to the strings that wouldn’t sound out of place in the opening credits to Antiques Roadshow on a Sunday night.

It’s not damning with faint praise to describe the music in such terms, it shows how well the music evokes feelings of nostalgia while also preparing to prick that warm balloon before you get too comfortable, throwing in a curve ball here and there to get your attention. Rolling, a forty second ditty played on what sounds like a child’s harmonium, through sheer innocence and simplicity only serves to add to the intensity and foreboding of the first bars of Goodbye, which approaches like a steamship honking in the distance before sudden, surprising vocals that have been absent for the rest of the album. There’s a touch of theremin in the background that complements the quivering angelicosity of the vocals, as does what sounds like the hum of whale song from the belly of a tuba. The album is a sumptuous treat for your ears and minds eye, and if you don’t remove an earphone or stop the song at least once during Forever and After to check that there’s not actually a flock of birds outside your window, you’re a stronger man than I. That final piece is like a summation to everything the album has striven for over the last half hour or so, and a really beautiful way of tying up all the loose ends and sending you on your way satisfied. Content. These are songs of contentment.

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