The Mercury Music Prize victory for Antony and the Johnsons seems to have given the kiss of life to theneglected art of the torch song. Hopefully the success ofAntony Hegaty will open up the airwaves for music that isas odd, twisted, sublime and affecting as Sol Seppy’s The Bells of 1 2.
These are torch songs of a sort; the piano forms thebedrock of the sound but it never dominates. This is moreBjork in the Tardis than Julie Garland‘sbleeding heart on stage at Carnegie Hall. Sol Seppy is therecording alias of Australian-English-Greek raised SophieMichalitsianos, the classically trained musician whoearned her indie rock kudos playing cello and guitar in thehaunted static noir of Sparklehorse.
In an increasingly monotone music landscape so dominatedby guitar bands it’s a blessed relief to hear somethingso vital yet inchoate, so cunning and musically inventive.This is a technicolor day dream, the part in the Wizard ofOz that switches from black and white into gloriouscolour. The songs manage to achieve the increasingly rarefeat of sounding incredibly intimate.
So intimate in fact thatyou feel the songs were written for private reasons orpersonally for you as the listener. There is no trace ofwriting for an audience, a record company or focus group.You feel wrapped up in a concealed world, a closed circle ahidden and enigmatic space.
The heady, woozy flu-like atmosphere of the musicreminds me of splintered mutant jazz of RobertWyatt. The dream-like ambience of the tracks is like anupdated take on Wyatt’s classic Rock Bottom LP. The firstwords heard on the The Bells Of 1 2 are; “The power ofangels you left at my door”. They are apt words for acollection of songs so full of enchantment and surprise.The track opens with a set of chiming bells that sound likethe glockenspiel of the gable of Hochzeitshaus in Hamlen.You can picture Sol Seppy bewitching the children of thatmedieval city with cello in hand. A pied piper for the21st Century.
Classical trained musicians dabbling in indiemusic often fall between stools and produce work that seemsunsure and vacant. Sol Seppy’s obvious love of the formshines through. She appears to be much more in love withpop music than the classical canon. There isrestraint and craft in the songs. Sol Fuzz uncoils from aplaintive piano figure via murky rough disco beats and adirty fuzz bass to a soaring vocal climax. Heavenly.
The piano chords and melody of Injoy seem to trip overthemselves and recoil as the rain lashes down outside. ComeRunning is all looping bass notes and guitars that ape thesound of 50s sci-fi films. When Michalitsianos sings;”it’s simply love my friend” my heart leaps.
Wonderland is Kate Bush remixed by Adem. It is amodern fairy tale, a good luck charm spun around a killermelody line. The first single, Move, opens in a harshwhiplash of phosphorus synths in overdrive, but dissolvesinto something more beautiful and beguiling. Loves Boy, withits warped guitar notes and weaving cello, is likePortishead when they were on top form.
In the abstract delicacy of the arrangements and clever,inventive new combinations, Sophie Michalitsianos hasfashioned a rare and dramatic collection. This is musicstripped of indifference, alive with possibility. Becareful listening to The Bells Of 1 2 – it’s breathtaking, andmay give your heart repetitive strain injury.