When I find music that really reaches me, I try to figure out the lessons I can learn from it. As an amateur musician and songwriter, so much is gained from records that really resonate with me. Today’s album in review from Australian artist Plum Green is such a teacher. Somnambulistic, the artist’s long-awaited sophomore album out September 17 through Nefarious Industries, is a class in contrast and arrangement. It covers a great deal of emotional and sonic ground within the aptly self-described genre of ‘atmospheric dream folk.’
The first lesson we learn here is contrast. A juxtaposition of darkness and calm is captured when the album opens with “Raspberry Vine”. Pastoral bird calls lull the listener briefly before some textural combination of cello, and distorted guitars put one’s skin on edge, but enjoyably so. Plum Green‘s soft, at times almost whispered vocals beckon you into this haunting landscape that only deepens and darkens with single “White Kitten”. Lyrics like ‘Can I follow you home/I can’t be here alone/The walls are listening and suspicious of me’ pair with gently arpeggiated acoustic chords, cinematic sound design, and an otherworldly organ to further conjure the sense of walking through a forest, seeing no one yet feeling someone there.
The second lesson we’re taught here regards musical arrangement. Plum Green so effectively utilizes vocal doubling, whispers, harmonies, and vocal echoes to turn what could be a simple acoustic album into something dense and dynamic. Further, the contributions of Daniel Cross’s textured, raw and looming guitars add so much drama and detail. The creepily cascading performances transform beautiful but sparse arrangements into a soundscape that feels like you could wander through it, should you dare. These elements are consistent throughout most of the record but bolstered by organ on “White Kitten” and “Belleza Nocturna” and strings on “Here We Go”.
The arrangements here also lend to the contrast mentioned above. With some songs shadowed by gritty guitars and others by soft strings, the sweet moments shine brightly among the darkness of Somnambulist. “Grave Snuggler” is probably the most, well, not the most happy, but maybe the least melancholic number here. It provides a reprieve from the gloom and a palette cleanser so that the tracks that follow become even more poignant. These arrangements are so effective for each song individually. They become even more impressive when considering the album’s bigger picture and the way the tracks flow together.
This album is as excellent an experience as it is a teacher. For an album that maintains a consistent tempo and tone for most of the tracks, it does not lose my interest (even though it may for some listeners), largely due to the incredible sound design, and effectively layered vocals that are staples of Somnambulistic. If you enjoy the dark folk of Chelsea Wolfe or Myrkur but would prefer to opt-out of the more metal moments, Plum Green will give you everything you need. If you’re a songwriter looking to learn, or a dark folk fan looking for a new favourite artist, Somnambulist has something for you.