The term “haunting” shouldn’t be used lightly when discussing musical output. It’s an easy word to grab onto when listening to something stark, or brooding, or melancholy – heck, goth records get tagged as “haunting,” and they’re pretty much only made by musicians with enormous granite slabs on their shoulders (metaphorically speaking, of course). It’s far more difficult to capture “haunting” as an adjective deliberately rooted in the otherworldly, the mysterious, and the supernatural. That’s really, really hard to do. Which is why, when I say this, I feel it should mean something: I think Brannten Schnüre have latched on to the essence of truly haunting music, and made a reverent, ritualistic, pastoral, and almost terrifyingly timeworn record.
And while Sommer im Pfirschhain (Summer in the Peachgrove) certainly has an old-fashioned feel to it, the dark folk act’s second in a planned four-release cycle, released on Belgium’s Aguirre Records, is almost certainly the product of modern musicians. (The first release, Aprilnacht, was released on SicSic Tapes.) Even though the vibe is decidedly old-world creepy, the execution is contemporary and vibrant – at least as “vibrant” as this duo is likely to get. Christian Schoppik has been making music for a while now, and he’s no stranger to wrangling spirits from the netherworld to inject into his tunes. That probably comes from residing in the Bavarian city of Würzberg, whose varied and rich history dates from the fourth or fifth century CE. The music is steeped in the medieval ghosts of the region, and Schoppik’s choice of accordion as his main instrument infuses the music with a decidedly European flavor – not that you need it as a reminder: these tracks are all super European, in the best possible way, filled with hints of fables and stories and legends. The gentle, downbeat “Feldweg” and moving dissonant chant piece “Lichter am Weiher” (“Lights on the Pond”) exemplify this remarkable sense of time and place.
Schoppik’s not the only one responsible for this sound, though. Vocalist Katie Rich appears on several tracks, initially on “Schweiẞ” (“Sweat”), and her voice adds a poignancy to Schoppik’s compositions. She does a good Nico impression, in the sense that in an alternate universe the chanteuse were plying her trade for French New Wave snuff film soundtracks, which, let’s face it, Brannten Schnüre would easily and creepily be good at. Her vocals are sung, whispered, and spoken in German, and the effect is downright unnerving. This is a song cycle about summer and peach trees? There isn’t anything really to suggest that, and that makes the result all the more unearthly.
Chamber and drone fetishists will find a lot to like here too, as Schoppik’s passages have a tendency to move quite slowly, often imperceptibly, and yet they are filled with great diversity and fullness. “Nachtmittagsschwüle” (“Afternoon Sultriness”) and “Mithra im Jardin Botanique” (“Mithra in Botanical Garden”) perfectly encapsulate these stylistic turns, respectively. The dirge “Auf dem Hohen Meiẞner” (“At the High Meiẞner”) even features bursts of sampled sound throughout, an unsettling addition to the song. “Pfirsche” (“Peaches”) might be the oddest entry of all, as the lullabye ends the album with a deep sense of surreality, almost with a playfulness that suggests the heaviness of mood throughout the album is a fever dream.
There’s a lot going on in Sommer im Pfirschhain, and a lot to like. Your predilection for old Germanic folk tales is certainly going to go a long way in whether or not this sounds like your cup of tea, but even then the juxtaposition of traditional structure and modern execution is enough to hold your attention for the entirety of this release. And it just sounds really, really good. This Brannten Schnüre team sure seems to have themselves together.
RIYL: Winter Family, Twinsistermoon, Seaven Teares