Singer/songwriter Erland Cooper, multi-instrumentalist Simon Tong (previously of The Verve, Blur, etc.) and drummer David Nock have recently released a very interesting album under the moniker Erland and The Carnival, and they have definitely caught my attention. The band is unusual in that many of the songs on their first record are covers of old English and Scottish folk tunes, or were at least inspired by traditional poetry, songwriting and music. I would imagine the trio retains at least some of the feeling and style that the original artists intended with their eerie, 60s-eque folk approach (though I can't say for certain, these references are fairly obscure to an American boy), but the album still manages to sound modern (and quite strange) while reaching deep into the musical past. No matter how much you know about Erland and The Carnival, however, the excellent musicianship and superb vocal performances alone make this a set of tunes anyone can and should appreciate.
Highlights are especially prevalent during the first half of the album. Opener "Love Is a Killing Thing" begins delicate and spare, but eventually swells into a climax of squealing guitar and pounding drums, while "You Don't Have to Be Lonely" and "The Derby Ram" carry their taught pace throughout, with Cooper's darkly-tinged tenor and plentiful vocal harmonies floating over musical elements both old and new. I'm finding it difficult to describe or compare to anything I've heard before, but the unique combination of folk, pop, and rock 'n' roll that defines Erland and The Carnival is thoroughly engrossing. While so many bands simply copy and paste from their influences, it's refreshing to hear a group that can craft something genuinely distinctive even as they borrow heavily from previous artists (albeit lesser known ones on most accounts). One of this year's most interesting releases, the debut album from this talented trio leaves me with the feeling that I've much more to discover if I'm willing to explore, and that's an oddly satisfying feeling.