Annie Sachs took on her present Tickley Feather nom de guerre in 2004 after realising that her singular musical style was just too atypical to work in anything other than a one-woman outfit. Despite being sought after by various wannabe collaborators, she embraced an independent, avant-garde approach and released her first album back in Spring 2008, a self-titled affair put out through Animal Collective’s own Paw Prints imprint. The zigzagging tendencies of the divergent, bizarre and inventive sounds assembled on that release continue on Hors d’Oeuvres, though somewhat more consolidated in their ambitions. The dense four-track layers of her previous work are blown up here, still very much DIY in nature but zooming in with a heady, glowing energy. The song structures offer Sachs’s idiosyncratic arrangements a slightly sturdier frame, sounding compact and contained in measured beat boundaries that recall more conventional genres.
If Sachs’s debut was a somewhat space-bound, star-filled mystery, Hors d’Oeuvres is a field of opening flowers, responding to some rushing warmth of light and joy. Recorded in a dilapidated farmhouse in the Shenandoah Woods of rural Virginia, the songs are larger and more melodic; every aspect of the instrumentation is filtered through an amplifying fuzz, from the beats and samples to the electro melodies and Sachs’s ever-ethereal, shimmering vocals that spiral through the songs like surfing spirits – blurry, reverberating waves of barely audible words that flow out towards the listener like currents of tone and sound rather then clear narratives. The ghostly sound effects that modulate her agile soprano stay soothingly strange and emotive rather then abrasive and hostile, spreading a warmth throughout the synthetically adjusted mediums which could so easily have translated into a clammy, robotic coldness. Every now and then a word or chorus becomes clear, reassuring us that Sachs is indeed speaking in an earthly language, but the overall effect is a stream-of-consciousness rhythm that should be trusted and enjoyed on intuition. Trying to transcribe, let alone dissect what she’s actually saying, would be to defeat the point.
Hors d’Oeuvres sways from experimental forays onto more reliable ground with adventurous spirit. ‘Club Rhythm’ could be a chillout dance track for forest ravers while ‘Tickley Plays Guitar’ clangs and clashes on a rather loud electric six-string, throwing in church bells at the close for good measure. ‘Sure Relaxing’ takes things into the deep with its bendy, space age vocals, though album opener ‘Muscles’ prepares the way cordially beforehand with trippy, cricket buzz modulations and curvy bass notes. ‘Roses Of Romance’ centres the album midway with some romantic, slow-burning electro, a kind of heart-thudding shoegaze that’s both sensual and melancholy, while standout track ‘Trashy Boys’ merges a pleasantly unusual beat with all the dark-wave glam of a Jesus & The Mary Chain bassline.
This very supple album sees Sachs growing as an artist, learning to intuitively follow her own leads and give a little more where she may have been previously elusive. Comparisons with other experimental, cross-genre pioneers CocoRosie are legitimate, but only in the loosest sense since the Tickley Feather sound is very much an original creation. Retaining the freshness of the debut and fleshing it out with an all-embracing, inspired energy, Hors d’Oeuvres should win over any would-be fans who were precariously undecided last year. In all, it’s a marvellously irregular album from an exceptionally creative artist.
Charlotte Richardson Andrews
UK release date: 19/10/09; www.myspace.com/tickleyfeather