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Reviews/Music

Freakish new album sets audience buzzing

15 April 2021

Nika Mo’s ambitious new freak-folk album is an extraordinary offering, writes Tiffany Ha after witnessing the launch as part of Audible Edge Festival.

Of Cloven Hoof in Honey, Audible Edge Festival ·
The Rechabite Hall, 14 April, 2021 ·

As I walked into the Rechabite Hall last night, I felt as if I had entered a parallel universe. I can’t quite put my finger on what is was: the diffuse, hazy blue and purple lighting, the cold, industrial fit-out of the space juxtaposed with the 1920s heritage features of the building. The large arched window behind the stage gave me the impression of being in an old abandoned warehouse that was once a church.

In the centre of the hall was experimental duo HyperUniform, with Gracie Smith on drumkit and Nathan Thompson on electronics. They performed a 30 minute set that felt at times hellish and psychotic and at others revelatory and profound. Thompson manipulated the sound of Smith’s free-flowing drums via an intricate system of modular synths and wires – producing a whole array of sounds from glitchy hiccups to quasi-middle-Eastern trance-like melodies to apocalyptic breakbeats.

HyperUniform take centre stage at Audible Edge Festival. Photo by Josh Wells

The second support act, Boorloo (Perth) based folk band Heathcote Blue, followed on with a set of intimate songs about the poeticism of ordinary, suburban life. Bandleader Lyndon Blue was a very likeable, unassuming storyteller: their lyrics have a charming naivety and directness about them, often leaning into the drawly diphthongs of Australian English with a deadpan yet earnest delivery. While I appreciate their songwriting, I would have liked to see them take advantage of the talent within the five-piece band to create a more dynamic, emotionally compelling set.

The audience was buzzing with anticipation before the main act. Nika Mo – an ensemble of some of the most exceptional contemporary musicians in Perth and the brainchild of local songwriter Annika Moses –  played the entirety of their new album Of Cloven Hoof in Honey. The album follows on from the melancholy folk of the 2018 EP mess head and 2019 release November.

Of Cloven Hoof, based on fairytales by the Brothers Grimm is an ambitious, wildly imaginative and starkly original work that draws influences from New Weird America, freak-folk, traditional folk, chamber-pop and experimental genres. Each song features a different fairytale, expressed via Moses’ extraordinary voice (she mostly sings in a velvety mezzo that transitions – effortlessly, at her command – into a crystalline head register) and brought to life by her amazing band.

Wow. I feel like my words won’t really do Niko Mo’s performance justice. Every aspect seemed so meticulously crafted and flawlessly executed, from the costuming (the musicians were dressed in black, each one with a different whimsical, elaborate hat or headpiece) to the theatrics (they opened and closed the set by standing in a circle and drinking from little black goblets, in perfect silence and synchronicity).

The quality of the musical arrangements and the palpable on-stage chemistry of the ensemble seems to be the result of what happens when a group of talented friends get together and commit to creating something extraordinary. Each musician brought their unique gifts – their offerings to the ritual, so to speak.

Highlights include Dan O’Connor’s melancholy muted trumpet lines in “The Messengers of Death”, the jangly psychedelic textures of double bass (Djuna Lee) and mandolin (Jameson Feakes) on “The Juniper Tree”, the medieval recorder and Greek chorus vibes of “The Devil’s Sooty Brother” (featuring Shanae Campbell and Be Gosper), Josten Myburgh’s unbridled drum solo in “The Singing Bone” and Lyndon Blue’s frenzied fiddling in “Dance of the Cloven Hoof”. What manifested was a work that is truly greater than the sum of its parts. 

Of Cloven Hoof in Honey is available as a digital album.

Audible Edge Festival continues until 18 April.

Pictured top: Annika Moses fronts Nika Mo for the launch of their new album ‘Of Cloven Hoof in Honey’. Photo by Josh Wells

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Author —
Tiffany Ha

Tiffany Ha is a pianist, composer, arranger, music educator and vocalist with a soft spot for anything a cappella. She has degrees in Music (Composition) and Arts (English) from UWA and works as a freelance musician. Her favourite playground equipment is anything that involves climbing and balance: monkey bars, rope towers, trees, human pyramids!

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