The swathe of DIY and bedroom pop artists that spawned before, during, and after lockdown remind me of the new Lichen Slow song, Preset. Forever the optimist, Malcolm Middleton sings, “Oh my God shit bands singing shit songs are everywhere /Then the people are listening as if it’s good/ Even good bands are singing shit songs these days.” It could be considered harsh, for sure, however as the saying goes, the truth hurts.
Sticking the boot in isn’t something that comes naturally, but when you’re inbox is under constant attack from same old tropes week after week, it’s nice when something is born from similar lineage that not only breaks the mould, it obliterates everything else in the process.
Many in the DIY orbit should be thinking along the same lines of Ellena Ramsay, and in particular the sonic sketches of their project, fhae. Actually, it’s a good thing many others are not, otherwise the impact of fahe’s latest record, sombre thorax, may be reduced.
The Brisbane experimentalist started the fhae project in 2018, and following the 2021 Fruit and Vegies EP, sombre thorax is one of the most interesting records to come out of Brisbane so far this year.
Likened to Cocteau Twins’ Elizabeth Fraser, for the most part sombre thorax has no language parameters. A codified outer-church idiom that bubbles under subtle layers of sound that are like a juxtaposition between dreamland and dismay.
Through foggy synths and hushed vocal tones, soul leans heavily into the realm of Grouper and Julianna Barwick. Emerging from the heavenly mist are following tracks, man and body. Here, Ramsay delicately manoeuvres through the labyrinth with strumming guitars that evoke the kind of folk minimalism one only captures in darkest pockets of the world. It goes beyond the notion of future proof singer-songwriters, as Ramsay harnesses an emotional depth that most aim for and miss regularly.
Like a whisper from the deep, drain is like a ghost that sucks you into the vortex. And once there, we are met with love – a string-laden delight with operatic crests that equal the emotional weight of man and body. Almost like a beautiful accident, it’s sombre thorax’s unanticipated moment.
On folk lullabies earth and heard, Ramsay lets the mask slip, with both songs containing coherent passages (“the sharks are eating” – earth). While the most conventional songs on sombre thorax, you get the feeling Ramsay is more comfortable when their songs are masqueraded in the mystique and static noise.
That returns on stuck. A tremolo-heavy sequence seemingly inspired by Efrim Menuck, as Ramsay creates the kind of raw dystopian-dread that can only be extracted from long periods off the grid in search of the perfect colours and tones to match the chaos.
While riddle and emergency are like dispatches from the angels, comb is straight out of the Grouper songbook circa Dragging A Dead Dear Up the Hill. The fractured ambient folk journey of disappoint is like being in freefall, which encapsulates the experience of sombre thorax. Music from a malignant spirit you think is known, but is merely cloaked in uncertainty. However, the potential of getting to know the subject is fascinating, and that’s Ramsay’s greatest boon with sombre thorax. Elusive both in sound and feel, it’s the vague spaces where the beauty is found, and on sombre thorax there is plenty of that.
sombre thorax is out now via 4000 Records. Purchase from Bandcamp.