Ulalume (Turf Records)
On the Tasseomancy song “Healthy Hands (will mourn you),” twins Sari and Romy Lightman repeat again and again the refrain, “All is lost.” The track is from their debut LP Ulalume, and the album – like the Edgar Allen Poe poem of the same title – embraces an elegiac tone, a sense of loss, heartache, and mystery.
When I asked why they chose to name their new LP after the Poe poem, Ulalume, Sari Lightman responded, “The poem just resonated with us, and the feeling we intend to create on the record. There’s the feeling of loss, and multiple realities occurring through memory.”
With Ulalume¸ Tasseomancy transforms their music from folk into a fuller, more experimental sound. Their trademark use of stark vocals and melodies remains, only now they’re made buoyant by a calm, spectral and ominous ambience, and helped along by producers Taylor Kirk and Simon Troittier of Timber Timbre.
Ulalume begins with “Anubis” and a ritual – the twins weaving gentle strums and Romy singing the lyrics “Braid the key / Light the leaves / Pour the salt / Underneath.” Her gentle instructions resonate, an incantation vibrating with the caress of finger-picked acoustics that rouse the imagination. And as Romy sings the final command – “Past the door-way,” – the heavy drums echo in imitation of knocking, pleading the god of the dead to open its doors.
The ethereal “Heavy Sleep” and “Healthy Hands (will mourn you)” follow the same recurring tribal beat and rhythm, reminiscent of that great western-sounding theme you hear on Turner Classic Movies after Robert Osborne introduces a classic Friday night film. Strings and percussion haunt, pedals shriek and dreamy vocals thrum alongside a constantly moving bassline. The songs sound viscous, like being drowned in a nightmare, and you’re left waiting and anticipating in suspense for rescue.
In “Diana”, the vocals ascend into the moonlight and the soaring howls send tides of chills down your spine. “Who’s in my cellar?” and “Who’s at my altar?” question the twins, as they beg the (moon) goddess for light. But it’s their dissonant yet angelic voices that shine in the darkness. “In the back of the room / They called me out,” the twins sing in this twisting track, their voices plunging into the unknown, spiny strings resounding and making it feel like the room is closing in.
Taylor Kirk of Timber Timbre (whose own LP Creep On Creepin’ On joins the shortlist for the Polaris Music Prize) takes the vocal lead in “The Darkness of Things.” Kirk’s timeless voice divides the twins’ choral tides, rupturing it all until it turns into voiceless mist. The arrangement enchants, with a hush and simple melody – a beautiful tune that affirms the balance between light and dark in the world. Kirk’s vocals reassure and offer hope and faith, rather than despair and gloom.
On the magical swan-song “Up you go, little smoke,” the twins transcend the album’s spooky, weighty atmosphere. “We pray for forgiveness,” the twins sing, peacefully, lightly. A rush of folk-lush howls imitates the scattering of the twins’ voices.
Tasseomancy closes the doors on Ulalume with two shadowy songs – “Soft Feet” and “Mournful Chest.” In the final track, the pitter-patter of footstep-like chords return, as the twins’ vocals once more descend and eclipse into the darkness.