Jakob Olausson Moonlight Farm

[De Stijl/Sub Pop; 2007]

Rating: 3.5/5

Styles: intimate private pressing folk
Others: Islaja, Six Organs of Admittance, Ed Askew

In this new weird American daydream, a band’s folkloric aura sometimes outweighs its music. If the music’s good, most of the fans don’t care if you lived in Vashti Bunyan’s pigeon coop or grew up in GG Allin’s father’s shed in the backwoods of Vermont. It’s just fodder for critics to chow and regurgitate to readers while explaining the worth of a particular album or artist. And so the story goes that, upon hearing Jakob Olausson’s music, Ben Chasny remarked: “Well, no reason for me to make music anymore. This kid hit it.” Jakob, himself freak-folk folklore bait, lives somewhere in Sweden, where he works on a sugar beet farm. A precursory glimpse at Jakob’s new album, Moonlight Farm, reveals the DeStijl imprint logo on the back, adding another layer of perceived mysticism, as the label typically reissues lost classics by unknown psych artists from a bygone era. This being the first album co-released by DeStijl and Sub Pop, the Seattle-ite PR staffers will surely add a smattering of blab with their press sheet.

Jakob’s gentle folk music speaks for itself, however, dampening the ersatz surrounding it. Though unlikely to replace Six Organs in the free-folk canon, he earns his niche with Moonlight Farm, a fresh batch of acoustic dirges. Jakob’s music intricately blends dark, deep vocals and laid-back, living-room-jam arrangements with lo-fi production values, creating an intimate, private-press feel.

Nothing on the first two songs sets Jakob apart from his peers. Both “What Will Tomorrow Bring” and “Welcome Traveler” contain droning vocals that fall somewhere between Gregorian chants and Calvin Johnson. While “What Will Tomorrow Bring” sounds like a moody, share-cropper field song backed by a pre-war jug band, “Welcome Traveler” cradles the listener with a spooky, well-arranged lullaby. But the perception of a jug band jam falls out the window with Jakob’s conveniently placed guitar solos, which pop up at unsurprising moments and are similar in theory and execution to the obligatory J. Mascis solo in each Dinosaur song. The tunes are fine, but overly conceived, falling prey to the very conventions they attempt to defy.

Jakob sharpens his delivery on the remainder of the album, thereby separating himself from the freak-folk pack. His inventive rhythms and dark vocals fuse with the private-press feel, establishing a direct connection and rapport with the listener. The songs sound like they were recorded for a few friends. Guitar lines protrude from the speaker, nearly breaking the third wall and inviting the listener into the world, while the haunting female ghost vocals on “Silhouette V” are otherworldly enough to reinforce the cracked third wall. Eclectic back-porch hum-a-longs like “Live to Tell” and “At the Citadel” add a friendly, loose feel while remaining unpretentious.

While Moonlight Farm is unlikely to force Ben Chasny out of a job, it will enthrall a few thousand listeners with its strange and masterful melodies. A folkloric figure-in-the-making couldn’t ask for more.

Most Read