Album Review: Joolz Denby’s and Henning Nugel’s ‘Crows’

by James Fleming

“Come into the light Lazarus old man…”

Every utterance, every note, add to the effect. Even the titles: Tree, Lazarus, Winter Trilogy. It’s a cold, wintery, stark effect. But gorgeous, the way a dead, leafless forest is in the depths of December.

Evocative and innovative make for rare, and evidently, strange, bedfellows. Music is often described as ‘evocative’ when there’s a lack of originality, but is of a high quality. Similarly, “innovative” is not exactly synonymous with “bringing strong images, memories, or feelings to mind”.

Henning Nugel’s music across the songs(?) on Crow is about as evocative as you can get. Luscious strings, atmospheric percussion and gentle nylon guitar create the perfect ambiance for Joolz Denby’s dark poetry.

Denby’s words are frosty meditations on death, brought to full-living colour by Nugel’s musical creations. No black and white film this. But a glorious technicolour journey through final moments.

Cinematic is the word. But not Springsteen’s B-movie cinema, nor ‘Tangled Up In Blue’s reckless romance. These are fantasies of a most morbid sort. And on tracks such as the excellent ‘Fable’ they touch on epic.

Vivid is another word, another accurate description; “The crows move in a ratchet minuet click-clack, their claws on slate.” I need not remind you that crows come in a murder…

“…let’s get a look at you”.

The austere atmospherics remind us that Denby got her start in the post-punk era. The music could not be any more different, but the overall feeling is not a million miles away from Joy Division’s Unknown Pleasures. One of despair and uncertainty. Just like what befell Denby’s Crow King in ‘Fable.’

Only ‘Aleppo’ has a solid beat. The rest? Well, the rest don’t need one. The lack, though it’s not really a lack, of a solid foundation or a melody is exactly what sets Crow apart from other, less thrilling, but similar, projects.

This lacking of traditional song components lends itself to a sense of uncertainty, which in turn lends itself to the atmosphere. For what is more uncertain than death?

‘Narcotika’ stands out. Like the prostitutes it features, it stands out as an ugly story. A sad, avoidable end to a sad, avoidable tale. Not death, no. But life instead.

It won’t sell, despite what they said in Spinal Tap, about death selling. This is the proverbial real deal. Denby’s words and Nugel’s music capture the feeling one would face if death were to actually look one of us in the eye: uncertainty and numbness. And where they could have left it at a stark black and white still photo, they elected to bring these words to life.

You can feel the pulse, the joy of creating something new in an age where the banal rules. It walks, talks and records albums. But as Denby says: “You’re not listening to me, are you?”

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