Werewolf Songs is a three–track EP from the Pennsylvania-based psych folk act Stone Breath, released in early April 2015 by the project’s own Hand/Eye imprint, itself a sublabel of the more far-reaching Dark Holler Arts. The EP was released in two formats: a physical collector’s edition that was limited to thirty-three copies, and a second edition that only came to be as a Bandcamp digital download.
Stone Breath has long been a stalwart within the psych folk scene with a career that stretches as far back as the mid-90s. The project disbanded in 2006 but reformed as a “phase 2” incarnation in 2009, with tendency towards prolific output ever since. The normal configuration of Stone Breath consists of Timothy R. as the project’s lead, accompanied by two semi-anonymous collaborators in Prydwyn and Sarada. With Werewolf Songs though, Timothy R. has been joined by Matt Jackson on acoustic bass and Zach Nace on guitar, due to the fact that Prydwyn and Sarada now live quite a distance away, and that “in order to play live on a somewhat regular basis it became necessary to find local folks to add to the line-up.”
The genesis of Werewolf Songs needs some exposition. For Timothy, one of the goals of Stone Breath was to try and release one or two EPs to bridge the gaps between proper album releases. Werewolf Songs is such a release; it is one of two EPs that are due after the band’s last album, Children of Hum, which proved to be a crossroads for the project in terms of subject matter: the path of spiritual exploration, or the path of folklore. Ghost stories, legends, and fairytales are an admitted passion for Timothy, and he began exploring these concepts with Fire Beyond the Seventh Gate, which preceded Werewolf Songs. The new songs, composed with this folklore slant, were becoming well-received during live performances—especially “Wolfskin” and “Skin / The Hunt”—so Werewolf Songs also serves as the first recording with the new local ensemble of Jackson and Nace.
The first track on Werewolf Songs, “Wake in Blood,” clocks in at fifty-five seconds and serves as an intro track to the EP. The track features a twangy banjo sound, giving it a rustic feel, while the song’s lyrics, “being woken by the moon to go hunting and feasting,” provide the appetizer of themes and imagery that awaits the listener in the EP proper
“Wolfskin” is the second track on the EP and is the best song of the lot. The music is still mostly guitar-driven, however the added hand drums and ektara/gopichand give it a tribal Middle Eastern vibe. The vocal delivery is similar to “Wake in Blood,” but the lyrics for “Wolfskin” are more substantial, dealing with transformation. The chorus, “touch the wolfskin on your neck / feel the wolf’s breath in your chest / see the night through lupine eyes,” seems to tell the story of a werewolf after his first metamorphosis. The music sets the stage for a rite to be performed around a bonfire; one can almost imagine a shaman incanting the words through flames to the newly minted lycanthrope. It’s a fantastic, superbly executed song.
The final track, “Skin / The Hunt,” is the slowest of the three tracks, but works well as an outro song. The guitar contains a small hint of shoegaze, as if at a moment’s notice it will break into Smashing Pumpkins’ “1979.” The lyrics are sparse and delivered slowly, but provide some open-ended questions to the new werewolf: “Whose skin are you in? / Whose hands claw the sand?” Is the “who” that the narrator speaks of the human? The wolf? Or perhaps, in breaking the fourth wall, the listener of the song? The song doesn’t provide closure to the story painted in Werewolf Songs per se, but it still functions as an appropriate ending with the hopes that the themes will carry on into another Stone Breath CD.
The physical release of Werewolf Songs is phenomenal: a square, opaque-white 7” lathe-cut record, with two patches housed in a sleeve that contains lyrics, credits, and artwork. For those who are unable to play the record, included in the set is a professionally printed CD-R along with access to a digital version via Bandcamp. The outer artwork depicts an almost Egyptian-influenced bipedal wolf in a robe that attractively stands in stark contrast to the pure black background, while the interior piece depicts a werewolf clawing a scarecrow, revealing a flaming heart.
The lathe-cut record is truly the curio here; its uniqueness is likely attractive to vinyl collectors as an alternative format but also to non-collectors for its one-of-a-kind nature. The first time the band used this format was on their previous release, Fire Beyond the Seventh Gate. Timothy laments that he is in love with the format though the sound quality isn’t great, but it’s something different than the typical audio files being forced onto listeners by services like iTunes. Since the physical set of Werewolf Songs is now sold out, each song is still offered via Bandcamp at $1.00 a song, a price on par with services like iTunes. There have been many neofolk artists turning to Bandcamp, with some, such as Stone Breath, finding success with the mix-and-match format of physical and digital content.
Though short, Werewolf Songs packs—pardon the pun—a mighty bite. The music is accessible and fun to listen to for those who need a hint of pop sensibilities with their folk music, but for those looking for something a bit deeper, the werewolf folklore and imagery will satiate that longing as well. Those lucky few that were able to snag the physical release certainly have a treasure on their hands, but the readily available and inexpensive digital version still make this a highly recommended and worthwhile release to own.
01) Wake in Blood
03) Skin / The Hunt