Words: Naomi McArdle
Fuss, from flowered headscarves, bracelets and doilies to serifs and lampshades in forests, can be nice sometimes. Sufjan Stevens and Of Montreal do it in style every time they play, delivering a stage show of sparkles, feathers and paint that complements their respective transfixing melodies and lyrics.
With cello, violin, harmonia, glockenspiel, piano, guitar, percussion and four highly-proficient vocalists, Henrietta Game have managed to make a fussy album out of 30 minutes of pastoral pop.
Which is exactly what I'd expected of Henrietta Game. Yet surprises began almost immediately on listening as the Intro track gave way to Black Ship, an arrhythmic, perturbing song that swells to cliff-hanger and leaves the listener dangling. It's not the best song on the album but is the biggest hint to the creative pool that feeds the Dublin four-piece, sounding like an excerpt from a much larger piece of work.
Running Out Of Time is not the best song either and the cliché title speaks for the kind of slow, husky wallowing song that could probably make a huge radio hit. Berlin is another shining point. Percussion and glockenspiel march along well together, while the vocals are the real leading points that allow for fun without reaching the more flamboyant extremes elsewhere.
The best song is Last Thing which sounds like a custom-built vessel for the voice of cellist Aonghus McAmlaigh, a deep and lustrous baritone bringing the first real bassy touch to the songs of Henrietta Game. Last Thing is the only time Aonghus sings on the album and becomes an anticipated highlight that passes too soon but understandably so: it's a voice that would easily overpower the delicate harmonies working through the rest of the album if he sang on every song.
There's something to be said for Sleep Then which sounds like it was chosen as the lead single for its fast pace that makes light work of cramming loads into a radio-friendly 3.5 minutes. It also reverbates with a more local indie bands sound and doesn't seem to be so serious as the rest of the material. 28 Hours takes a more simplistic approach and this song belongs to the voice and violin. At this point it has to be said that the track titles of Black Ship don't display much insight or application which is disappointing. Lyrically passable, it's nice then to read hear something more poetic in Rain-Drenched Strings, although the vocals seem a bit too drawn-out in places. I Paint Things of Beauty is the point where the fuss over-froths and creates a song that can only work with a melodic and vocal circus. It's a song that's irritatingly nice, big voices and big drums getting caught jumping through a too-small ring of fire. Perhaps it's a good song to hear live in a venue but on record, it lacks a real hook.
At just half an hour, attention doesn't dip too much but it can feel very rushed in places. Musically, the arrangements are dainty and sharp, their talent resonating in the ornate instrumental framework. But it is the vocal curio of Henrietta Game as a band that will make the greatest impression on the listeners. Not perfect, pastoral pop, it's got a rustic charm that will take a while to wear into more comfortable, rounded songs but the seeds have been planted and there's plenty to grow fond of in Black Ship.