Peter von Poehl is the kind of new European whose very existence makes Robert Kilroy-Silk and the rest of his inbred minions quake in their jackboots. A Berlin based singer-songwriter with a German father and a Swedish mother whose career kicked off in France, von Poehl’s debut album Going To Where The Tea Trees Are has been out since last year in Europe, and makes its UK debut via the lovely people at Bella Union.
Initially the marriage of artist and label makes absolute sense, as the eponymous first track slides languorously out of the speakers. It’s a slow, delicate song whose lyrics hint at the narrators’ inability to make progress in life and instead choosing to turn back to their past. As a hint towards the musical direction of the rest of the album, it’s not a bad roadmap.
Over the next eleven tracks, von Poehl steers a fraught path through the landscape of the ’70s and ’80s; while at times he may drift close to cliche, he manages to stay the right side of wide-eyed and endearing.
This means that, while the album is stuffed full of minor marvels (the almost perfect chamber-pop of Travelers; the gentle uplift of recent single The Story of the Impossible), there are the odd attempts at a more aggressive sound that push von Poehl’s voice into a sort of generic AM rock wilderness. Scorpion Grass is probably the worst offender: a song that urgently needs a horn-otomy so that we can focus more on von Poehl’s alluring crooning.
So Going To Where The Tea Trees Are works best when von Poehl is given space to soar. His mannered, polite delivery is not for everyone, sure: this is not the kind of album that gets in your face and demands to know your opinion of it, like, now!
No, it’s a shy, slow-burn experience that perfectly suits late-night contemplation, the kind of album that will never be your favourite but you will still always want to have around. If you like their music but the thought of actually buying a Steely Dan or Blue Nile album fills you with fear, you’ve found your panacea here.