Norwegian instrumentalist (and Wave Machines member) Vidar Norheim has worked with Lizzie Nunnery before, producing her debut album, Company of Ghosts, in 2010. The pair link more directly on this duo record, allowing them to draw from a wider range of new and intriguing references.
“They say the end of the world is coming”. It’s perhaps an odd way to start an album, but Evensong kicks things off with a warning. Short, sinister and sparsely accompanied, Nunnery crisply sets an apocalyptic tone, one which shoots through the rest of the record - floods, dying birds, storms and the titular hound inhabit a rather bleak world.
But it’s a fascinating one. The title track mixes classical flourishes with a bluesy swagger, there is some breezy piano pop; and in Twisting on the Breeze, a twist on a torch song. Percussive invention is a theme, from the tribal-sounding drum patterns and triangle of Five Thousand Birds to the military rattle of Sand.
Lyrically, Nunnery’s songs are complex and nuanced, often punctuated with standout, memorable lines: “Throw it to the dogs / Throw me to the gods,” she sings, affectingly, on Sand, while The Cold Has Come promises, mournfully, “there will be love beneath the snow”.
It’s not all darkness, though. The witty, playful Don’t Put Your Life on the Stage - smartly observed; Nunnery is a successful playwright - is one of the album’s highlights, while Plucking the Stars is positively jolly.
Nunnery’s sometimes tremulous voice is put to different use on two ’spoken’ tracks - Cherry Blossom and Don’t Look to Me. Her poetry is beautifully crafted and interesting (particularly Don’t Look to Me), but it’s hard to shake the feeling that these tracks are interrupting the songs. The musical accompaniments are unobtrusive, but feel a little disposable as a result.
As an album, Black Hound Howling is a little unfocused, and at times it can feel a touch on the long side. But it’s also inventive, unique, and - when it hits the mark - thrilling. The cynical but somehow uplifting Poverty Knocks (not to be confused with Poverty Knock) is a great note to end on. The Liverpool Socialist Singers provide depth and warmth, but Norheim and Nunnery’s singular talents are what make it all well worth listening to.Mark Dishman
Released 17 September 2012 on Redthread
2. Five Thousand Birds
3. Black Hound Howling
5. The Cold Has Come
6. Plucking the Stars
7. Tread Lightly (featuring Mr Gary Daly)
8. Cherry Blossom
9. Don’t Put Your Life on the Stage
10. Twisting on the Breeze
11. Don’t Look to Me
12. Poverty Knocks (featuring the Liverpool Socialist Singers)