This album should be bigger than it’s going to be. What appears to be just about zero publicity for it suggests its makers want to keep it a secret, for reasons unclear, rather than satisfy a steadily building demand for all things Bishi. Earlier this year she released a split 7″, Hymn To London, and performed at a church in London’s Shoreditch. But despite this and sporadic assorted other one-off appearances it’s only at the tail end of the year that her music is beginning to reach any kind of audience – and largely by accident through word of mouth, it seems.
Formed out of London fashionista scenester haunt Kashpoint with co-writer Matthew Glammore (see also Patrick Wolf), Bishi’s schtick on record owes as much to English folk music as it does to her sitar playing and genre-busting melding of acoustic instruments – jaw harp features prominently – with electronic production. The resulting melange sounds like nothing else released this year. Her eye for homemade fashion and graphic design has also secured her space in the fashion mags – but Nights At The Circus underlines the plainly dressed fact that Bishi is no mere clothes horse.
Such twinkly instrumentation, combined with Bishi’s cutglass enunciation, lends The Swan a grace worthy of its name. Grandmother’s Floor, all minor chords and atmosphere, marks out a ready ability with classic folk songwriting laced with pop hooks that pivots the whole album. For ears used to listening to jangly meat-and-veg indie schmindie, Nights At The Circus should be prescribed as an antidote.
The coffee table electropop, interspersed with Indian drumming and sitar twangs, that makes up I Am You wouldn’t sound out of place on a Morcheeba record, of which there’s more in the form of Vicious Stories – a track with more than a hint of The League of Gentlemen soundtrack about it.
Never Seen Your Face is the central track and one that begs for killer remixes. Soaring multitracked vocals, wild sitar and driving tabla underline a tune that just works. There’s more of this dance pop sensibility later with On My Own Again. Closing track Namaste, by contrast, sounds so different as to be by another artist.
Night Bus is the closest Bishi gets musically to medieval English banquet music, despite the ever-present tabla and sitar – but it shambles along at a rhythm that’ll be familiar to London’s bus-using denizens. Lyrically it’s a hoot too: “Sweating bodies packed like sardines, 200 languages govern the scene.” After The Party works like an all-night companion piece to it.
Nights At The Circus is a flowing, accomplished record that transcends lazy pigeonholing and will reward listeners prepared to take it on board on its own, unique terms. As a declaration of intent, it stands head an shoulders above a London that sounds far more interesting than certain much more successful female singer-songwriters from the far-flung corners of the metropolis would have you believe. Bishi’s phantasmagoric place is as seductive as it is compulsive. More please.