The density, the sheer weight of this album, is hard to convey in words. It’s as if the elements of almost everything we understand to be popular music have been rolled and pressed, compacted and ground down, so that here we follow through seams and strata, jazz, folk, spoken word, drone, ballads, noise, even punk – as long as your definition of punk isn’t narrowed to safety pins and sniffing glue.
Opening track ‘O Death’ is centred around a beautiful, cyclical, choral drone, with chiming bells, plucked strings and wild, emotive drum fills and crashes working in counterpoint to the restrained, revolving vocals. The drone builds and builds until it crescendos into something like a Caribbean work song, with Hanna Tuulikki singing “You’re very dead and you’re very gone” joyfully over the top, as if the fear of death had never entered into the human experience. It’s quite a way to start an album.
An astonishingly fresh and moving take on the traditional ballad ‘She Moves Through The Fayre’ follows, again lifted by Tuulikki’s elegant and eccentric vocals – imagine Joanna Newsom crossed with someone a little more trad arr., like Sandy Denny or Ann Briggs.
‘Blackout Years’ rolls and churns ominously, with smatterings of percussive noise and bells providing the backdrop for seasick violins and plaintive, wordless vocals. It moves at the slow, steady pace of a funeral procession and makes the listener feel slightly queasy, like all good music should.
There’s a great deal of nu-folk out there that is wilfully, pointlessly backwards-looking. Scatter are mercifully rooted in the here and now, thanks in part to Oliver Neilson’s distinctive spoken-word rants that sift through the rubble of modern life, but also in the way that the band magpie elements from the ancient and the new to create a sound all their own. The Mountain Announces isn’t by any means a flawless record but it is a deeply human one.