Folk music has such breadth and depth and is woven so deeply into so many various cultures of the world that, while different instruments and elements are included or vary regionally, the source—or the intention—essentially remains the same. Folk music is music created by people for not just our individual selves but also as a means to connect to our pasts, to the present, to the earth, and to one another. Considering this, despite what anyone would try to have others believe, the vast majority of us all possess a level of fragility—a certain tenderness of heart. Our histories, our triumphs, our struggles, our loves, and our heartache: These are all inevitable elements of existence uniting us in our humanity. To be human is to think and to feel, to not just move through life as an epidermal structure stretched upon a frame built of tissue and bone. But it is also to be a creature molded by that which came before us and that which surrounds us. So, while we can always find differences between ourselves and others, in the end, there is very little which divides us other than how we choose to perceive life and how our circumstances affect that perception, which is particularly why I love Braided Paths—the split album created by Spain (now Germany)’s Sangre de Muerdago and Washington State’s Novemthree. As each project is clearly an ocean apart, and while each maintains its own distinct sound, the fact remains that there is a sensation of unity in that, generally speaking, our paths are certainly interwoven in many ways. Perhaps they may not be going the same direction at all times on an individual level, but we all face the same end eventually, and it is our similarities while our paths unfold before that end which bond us together.
Beginning with the sound of footsteps crunching their way through a forest ground blanketed with sticks and leaves, “A Xustiza Pola Man” instantaneously connects your senses to nature. The word “nature” itself bears an interesting duality, being defined as both “the phenomena of the physical world collectively” as well as “the basic or inherent features of mankind.” Considering this, it is essentially these parallels and correlations that sew the songs of this recording together so nicely. Following this introductory song—rich with soft but not timid harmonizing male and female vocals, dual guitars, violin, cello, and flute—it seems logical that Sangre de Muerdago would then introduce a song entitled “Saudades.” “Saudade” is a word that loosely translates to “longing,” or a profound sensation of missing someone mixed with a sense of nostalgia and melancholy. But in the end, while one can of course comprehend the general idea—despite the attempts at using a variety of terms and explanations to reveal the fullness of feeling for which the expression is used to portray in Galician and Portuguese—this is a word that has no direct English translation. Provided this and the fact that the song itself is an instrumental piece, the absence of words is precisely what makes it exceptionally gorgeous. When there are no specific words to match another, the better approach to defining something unfamiliar is to develop a means to represent it conceptually, thus enabling our perception and understanding through the use of our other senses. Much like explaining colors or imagery to the blind with temperatures or textures, with the use of sound, this song does a marvelous job of illustrating the meaning and intention of this somewhat weighted word representative of a feeling most of us have all felt resounding at one time or another in our minds and chests. The song begins with a layer of a classical guitar being plucked, followed by the accompaniment of a second guitar, cello, and violin, with the final addition of a flute joining the others. After both guitars come in, prior to each instrumental element of the song being added, there is a brief, steady ritardando followed by a measure or two of silence, which exquisitely adds to an inexplicable anticipation of the music beginning again as the composition is gradually built. I sincerely cannot praise this song enough.
The last of Sangre de Muerdago’s four contributions is “053º 40,6 n 008º 06,3 E,” the title of which is a poem originally written by the nineteenth-century Galician poet Rosalia de Castro. A poet active during the Romanticism movement, much of her writing involved working with the concept of “saudade.” Considering this with the fact that the title of her poem is a set of map coordinates leading to some mysterious destination (I did try to look it up, but all I could find was that it points to an unspecific location somewhere in Spain), it absolutely ties in again with the recurring concepts of nature and paths. The composition here, as with the others, draws the attention of the listener in and stirs the soul—like unearthing a relic you had forgotten but found again on accident.
The second half of this split is provided by Novemthree. Their first song, “Embracing the Storm,” remains synonymous with the music which came before it. The exception to that statement being that in this song, after the calm guitar introduction, there is a noticeable though subdued pivot—a fitting, clear, but not jarring shift in tone. The guitar work begins with dual classical plucking, but evolves into faster strumming that is merged with reverberant percussion just before eerie voices hoarsely whisper some sort of a chant in front of a small choir of male and female harmonized vocals. It is this sort of contrast that makes it a nice transition into the duration of the album, which settles back into a solemn calm still in possession of the presence of a lingering shadow. Without a doubt, my favorite track on this half of Braided Paths is “Othala.” Othala is a Rune, the literal translation of which is “Homeland.” The chorus is a choir of people chanting the song’s namesake and, upon my first listen, I found myself humming along with it, coming up with various harmonies of my own to go along with it simply because I felt inclined to do so. I typically listen to an album before examining its finer details, and within this tune, I felt a connection to it before I even knew its title. Upon learning what it was about, my response then seemed particularly fitting. Moving beyond the sort of ritualistic forest folk they play with plenty of traditional elements and a hint of psychedelia, thematically speaking, Novemthree also gravitate toward nature as it exists in the world around us as well as the nature within ourselves, and it is always pleasant to be reminded of how the two are so closely intertwined.
This album was without a doubt crafted by seasoned musicians fully competent both in their abilities to play and to piece together solid compositions. They have honed in on the art of creating something delicate though strong, beautiful, mournful, and ultimately resilient. The passion of those creating it shines through brilliantly in the darkness of their folk. Be it a Galician folk band from Spain, or folk with slight psychedelic, ambient undertones hailing from the Pacific Northwest, the picture painted is a lovely expression of the world around us and that which lies within, all of which contribute to a form of solidarity among us all.
01) A Xustiza Pola Man
03) Unha Ofrende de Ósos
04) 053º 40,6 n 008º 06,3 E
05) Embracing the Storm
07) This Is My Home
09) The Serpent’s Skin
Written by: Anne K. O’Neill
Pest Productions (China) / TREE004 / CD, Digital
Avant! (Italy) / AV!027 / 12″ LP
Boue Records (France) / BOUE018 / 12″ LP, Digital
Sick Man Getting Sick (Germany) / SIM-011 / 12″ LP
Música Máxica (Germany) / MM04 / 12″ LP, Digital
Neofolk / Psych Folk / Dark Folk / Galician Folk