Review: Tasseomancy – Ulalume

Apparently Tasseomancy is the practice of reading fortunes using tealeaves.  It’s not terribly inspiring as a band name, particularly when you learn that the Canadian duo of Sara and Romy Lightman changed their moniker in 2008, favouring the tea thing over the much more exciting sounding Ghost Bees.

 Shame.
Disappointing name change aside, the duo release debut Ulalume this month on August 29th. Sonically the neo-folk drones and spacey textures are fairly evocative of Mercury Prize nominees Esben and the Witch minus the eerie implied violence of the Brighton collective.  Which is a shame, as Ulalume’s main problem is often lacking anything to make it as arresting as it needs to be. 

Obviously you have to account for genre, and while musically a certain uneasiness and originality is achieved, the reluctance to embrace things such as structure or… y’know, melody… can prove a little frustrating. Particularly when you’re on your sixth listen and still can’t pick the songs apart beyond defining them by saying things like “Oh, that’s the one with the swirly ghost noise”.

It’s oddly when the female vocals move to the background that the album shines briefly with midpoint track The Darkness of Things, which with the addition of Timber Timbre sounds enormously like Conor J O’Brien, albeit without the quirky and morbid charm of his outfit Villagers.

It’s not an entirely formless mass, though. Heavy Sleep manages to capture the imagination and senses briefly with it’s medieval execution-march drums pitched against a simple vocal refrain, and Diana struggles to find it’s feet for 6 minutes but does at points deliver.

Above all though, the album rarely offers any warmth or emotion of any discernible kind to the listener.  Mood and lyrics (sample Anubis’ bizarre request “milk their eyes”) are mostly impenetrable, and these irks make it difficult to connect with the songs on any real level beyond an inquisitive listen.

Bring back Ghost Bees.  At least the name was fun.

Jonathan Markwell
twitter.com/littlekwell