Mendrugo More Amor

[Fire; 2016]

Styles: psych-folk, children’s song, Spanish indie
Others: Devendra Banhart, Michael Hurley, The Boy Least Likely To, Diane Cluck

“Introite Calliope,” the first track off Mendrugo’s More Amor rinses the outside world away. Medieval church services often began with an “Introit,” the Latin word for entrance, musical chant during which church servants would wander into place to begin their duties. Mendrugo combines that ritual with an allusion to Calliope, the ancient Greek muse of poetry and song, clearing the air for the happy, playful set of songs to come.

The members of Mendrugo have always embraced a range of historical influences. Folk songwriter Josephine Foster, the band’s leader, has attributed inspiration to everything from Song of Solomon to painters like Hieronymus Bosch and Francisco Goya. And guitarist Victor Herrero grew up in a monastery, singing medieval Gregorian and Mozarabic chant. It makes sense, then, that the narrators of the songs on More Amor inhabit a different conception of musical experience, in which music is neither art nor commodity, but a part of the ebb and flow of everyday life. On “Atapuerquillo” (“Caveboy”), the band sings: “Con este canto agradecemos/los buenos frutos que comemos” (“With this song we give thanks/ for all the good bounty we eat”).

The high-energy band (consisting of Foster, members of The Victor Herrero Band, Japanese woodwind artist Taku, and folk musician Lorena Alvarez) relishes simple objects and pleasures. Lentils, snails, goats, creeks, crickets, crabs, and a lighthouse all find their way into the 11 songs; figs are eaten more than once. Among the songs, all written by the band, one is named after the group’s donkey (“Velluda”), one is about the rural Spanish pastime of painting olive branches with manure (“Emboñiga”), one is an ode to shooting star (“Estrella Fugaz”), and “Macho y Hembra” is a celebration of two monkeys in love. The world these songs make is a welcoming one, in which the stakes feel low: “Vale la pena esperar/ viene” (“Things come/ It’s worth it to wait”), they sing patiently.

Foster has spoken of melody as a way to give words shape and make it easier both to memorize poems and to meditate on their meanings. But even for listeners who don’t speak Spanish, the melodies on these songs are interesting apart from language. Their winding shapes intricately trace the Andalusian folk music tradition; the album was recorded in Casas Viejas, a city in southern Spain. The exquisite lilt of “Manolo,” penned by Jose Luis Herrero within the last few years, sounds like it could have been written centuries ago.

Like a service, these tracks work together as an extended jam among the musicians. As needed, rubato tempo changes energize us and then bring us back down to earth. Each instrument continually nudges the others in new directions; Mendrugo makes us feel as though we are constantly in flux. The band’s otherworldly magic is to make us realize that maybe that’s not such a bad way to be.

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