While I’m sure we all appreciate the important (well, self-interested and money-grubbing) work of musicians that like to convey hard-hitting political messages through their songs, can’t we also admit that it’s sometimes nice listening to music that’s just…pleasant? The kind of music that, rather than sticking it to the man, ignores the man completely and decides to go for a walk. The kind that lets its own inherent beauty be enough. Don’t get me wrong, I’m all for expressing thoughts and feelings, political or otherwise, through songs, and I’d be in rather a sticky spot trying to review music if I weren’t. But listening to the priests of pop music preach the same trendy, worn-out pessimism, I can’t help but feel … bored. Being told what to think is boring, and it’s nice, once in a while, to be trusted enough as a listener to come to your own judgments, and have permission to get a little lost in your own thoughts.
That’s how Rainbrother’s Tales From The Drought captivated me. It’s a comfort for the weary, politics-addled brain; Listening to it is, in a word, lovely. There’s no pressure, no constraint, the album lets you drift amid its loose psychedelic weave of acoustic folk guitars, reverberating vocal harmonies, and frenetic electronic elements. Tales From The Drought doesn’t try to live in the real world, instead it loses itself in a nostalgic dreamland somewhere between the plains of the Sahara desert and the Scandinavian fjords. Frontman Bjarke Bendtsen plays out a pastoral fantasy, acting as a kind of pied-piper of hippie-dom: “You can come to my village / I’d make you mine / bake you pastry / carry you ’round”, he wishes on ‘Juggler’. This rural baker-come-lover daydream is clearly frivolous and tongue-in-cheek, but the warm familiarity of it is surely intentional. In a recent interview, Bendtsen said: ‘music is healing and massaging the soul’. You might need to take a moment to get over how disgustingly earnest that statement was, but Bendtsen’s philosophy results in a record that is genuinely soothing to listen to. Rainbrother shine a warm light over everything they touch.
Album opener ‘Riverside’ begins in a rush of euphoric guitars and cascading synths, accompanied by wailing vocal harmonies. “Can you see me now / giggling from the clouds / with your wet old heart?”, Bendtsen croons over a tense moment of quiet, before the song tumbles once more into nostalgia and chaos. ‘East African Dream’ which follows it, sounds like a long-lost folk B-side by Pink Floyd. Psychedelic screeches echo eerily in the darkness behind a simple, looped vocal theme. These opening tracks act as a sort of preface, showing off the lush instrumental work that takes centre stage throughout the album. Rainbrother don’t stay in one place for too long, though. Instrumental soundscapes billow and expand as the album goes on, progressing to a rocky crescendo around the middle of the album. Stand-out track ‘Break Out’ is a pacey splurge of electric guitars and emotion. However, its lyrics show that it doesn’t take itself too seriously: “I push you off the water bed you don’t need / dump you in the ocean and you’ll learn how to swim / because I like you”. Meanwhile, the penultimate track, ‘Hanging’, is the perfect wind-down song – a song for the streetlamp-lit walk home after a long day. It’s a gentle, feather-light lullaby, and Bendtsen’s vocals are effortlessly intimate: “Look at the glowing stars above your bed / I’ll be away for only an hour / stay inside, you’re dreaming / you’re alive, you’ll remember”. You then slip further into Rainbrother’s spaced-out dreamworld, as final track ‘The Sun’ ebbs away into nothing.
Tales From The Drought isn’t avant-garde or ground-breaking. In fact, it’s so very psych-folk that at times it loses its subtlety – on that account, I wouldn’t recommend ‘Crow’ or ‘Birds Don’t Fly’, which both fall a bit too bluntly on the ear (‘Crow’ begins dully: “There’s a crow at my window / and it keeps me up all night”, and it doesn’t really get more interesting than that). Rainbrother occasionally overstretch our tolerance for that sort of languid pastoralism, popularised by Fleet Foxes, Bon Iver et al. But that’s a rare occurrence on the album, and in general Tales From The Drought gives you just what you might hope for in a good folk album: It sounds beautiful.