Born Heller

Born Heller

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Born Heller use dissonance like punctuation, peppering their melodies with off-key commas and brutal exclamation points. Like a mirror image of Bert Jansch taking on the blues, this is British folk filtered through the hearts of two young Americans, and the overall effect is jarring. The songs are so unbelievably quiet that the slightest deviation can make the hairs on one's neck stand up, and it's this almost intrusive intimacy that make the Chicago duo's debut so impressive. Harpist, mandolin player, and vocalist Josephine Foster possesses the kind of voice that could stop an invading army. Her throaty yet delicate delivery has been rightly compared to Shirley Collins, but that great interpreter of traditional English music would never have uttered a line like "I want to know the world we live in." It's this lyrical -- and sometimes musical -- foot in the present that casts such a huge shadow over the other foot, which is firmly entrenched in the mud of the heathery fields of old. Bassist Jason Ajemian wields his instrument like a Swiss Army knife, comfortably sawing, bowing, and slapping throughout each hypnotic piece -- "Pansies, Will You Ever Grow?" features some truly nightmarish harmonics. When the pair play together they sound like an underworld version of David Rawlings and Gillian Welch, performing just as deftly but with a healthy dose of the avant-garde. Simpler songs like "Big Sky #4" and the beautiful "Left Garden" show a real flair for melodic songwriting and are a welcome break from some of the more difficult pieces, but there's an underlying menace waiting beneath each and every cut, making Born Heller a beautiful, honest, and utterly terrifying record.

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