Elfin Saddle is the musical project co-founded by Jordan McKenzie and Emi Honda. Partners in life and in art, Jordan and Emi have been building a wonderful body of visual, installation and video art that combines organic living materials with found and scavenged objects to create enchanted environments of growth, slow transformation and gradual decay. Miniature examples of this work can be seen on the album cover art for this, their second record, and first for Constellation.
Elfin Saddle’s music is gently mystical, calmly wide-eyed, and consistently guided by crystalline melodies deployed over the group’s building blocks of accordion and junkyard percussion. Jordan and Emi trade off on these instruments and on vocal duties, with Jordan singing in English and Emi in Japanese. Supplemented by acoustic guitar, ukulele, banjo, xylophone and bells, the result is a truly unique hybrid folk music, woven from simple, insistent instrumental elements and vocal rounds. The addition of Nathan Gage (Shapes And Sizes) on double bass and tuba creates a new anchor for these magical tunes.
"Ringing For The Begin Again" is a highly organic song cycle; the music sounds as if it had been dug up from dark, rich earth. Out of the opening drone and rustling ambient percussion of "The Bringer", Jordan evokes golem-like images in a series of descending vocal melodies, gradually joined by Emi’s vocal counterpoint and a slowly evolving brew of instrumental layers, like a clay sculpture taking shape and hardening in dappled sunlight. "Running Sheep" is one of several fables sung by Emi in Japanese and demonstrates the band’s sharper, more staccato melodic sensibility. Third track "Hammer Song" is a brilliant little ode to deconstruction and dismantling, an anthemic tune about the tension between restraint and resolve. Emi’s ukulele and vocal lines on "Sakura" are perhaps most overtly evocative of her home country of Japan; as the song is overtaken by a clockwork of chiming acoustic guitar figures and chugging chords, and segues into the instrumental "Muskeg Parade", we’re in the throes of a sort of east-meets-west miniature musicbox marching band.
Side Two begins with the two-part "The Living Light", the album centerpiece and a secular hymn to rejuvenation by daylight, sunlight, exposure to the elements – perhaps as only dwellers of the upper latitudes can fully appreciate. In a way, the entirety of "Ringing For The Begin Again" feels forged directly out of the seasonal extremes of Canadian nature, with the instrumentation like a shelter of wood, moss, grasses and packed earth within which simple and cyclical rituals of invocation and parable can be shaped and intoned. Song after song emerges as if from a sort of hibernation, inscribing its own little portal and then breaking open through it, letting in the elements and harnessing them into harmonious coalescence.
01. The Bringer
02. Running Sheep
03. Hammer Song
05. Muskeg Parade
06. The Living Light
07. The Procession
08. Temple Daughter
09. The Ocean