Harmonium filled folk songs for sad times.
The harmonium is a quintessential folk instrument but it isn’t very often that a singer-songwriter uses it as a base instrument for their sound. Joanna Gemma Auguri does just that. Her latest album ’11’ is a stark and often minimal folk album that lets the drone, hum and wheeze of the harmonium take centre stage. Captivating with a slow burn, this is a gem of an album you might overlook on first listen.
Indeed, I overlooked ’11’ on first listen. I dug the sludgy, depressing mood of the album but found it at times a little lacking in oomph. It took me a little while to tune into the power of what the harmonium brings. The best example of this is the sensational track ‘Molecules of Light’. Here the harmonium is paired up with an accordion and possibly an additional organ to create a full-bodied gothic folk dirge. Joanna Gemma Auguri has a rich and captivating voice and when backed with this widespread organ assault, everything shines in its misery. ‘You Hurt’ is equally powerful for its restraint and barebones approach too.
Elsewhere, the album shines with baroque instrumentation. ‘Moje Usta’ brings in zithers, prepared piano and scraped strings to create a twisted fractured illusionary world. ‘Dear, I See You’ layers Auguri’s voice into its own choir for a powerful melodic ballad. The Pagan-folk music lovers will enjoy tracks like ‘Women of Golm’ which feel very European. PJ Harvey ‘Let England Shake’ fans can find the emotional ‘Childhood days’ and ‘The Snow’ as entry points as the autoharp/zithers make desolate and archaic melodies for Joanna to power through.
I didn’t see all this beautiful power on the first listen though. I had to return back several times for the album to click because there’s only ever three or four instruments playing softly at once. It falls in an unusual place of sounding very calm but actually channelling emotionally charged narratives and melodies. Now I’ve got used to the way Auguri writes, I’m finding new and interesting ways to discover how she crafts and delivers that emotional power.
If you are looking for folk music with a heavy, sombre, powerful but at times ethereal heart and soul – ’11’ is for you. Joanna Gemma Auguri wields the harmonium like a super sleuth and it gets under your skin without you knowing. Give it time – this one is a grower, not a shower.
Recommended track: Molecules of Light
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