'The River Nektar' and 'Yuletide' by The Iditarod, 'Slightly West' by Greg Weeks
by Ian Simmons
[ cdreviews ]
You would not expect a band named after a trans-Alaskan sled race to sound like The Iditarod do on either of these quite different outings. The River Nektar is testament to the fact that the likes of Nick Drake and Sandy Denny have a lot to answer for; it is the work of a duo, Carin Wagner and Jeffrey Alexander, and is fey, neurasthenic folkie singer-songwriter wibble. It largely lacks any sign of tunes or song structure, and the performance, vocal and acoustic guitar are so limp and tentative that they seem almost afraid to come out of the speakers. You feel you need the take the performance gently by the hand and coax it out from behind the cone. Ghastly beyond belief and quite uniquely unlistenable, the only hopeful sign anywhere in this pitiful morass is a mordant and well-judged cover of Eno's 'Fat Lady of Limburg', during which they discover some backbone.
The River Nektaris a re-release of The Iditarod's 1998 debut album, with additional tracks added, including the aforementioned 'Fat Lady'. Yuletide is their new mini-album and goodness, what a difference. It is scarcely believable that it is the same band. Reinforced by English folkie Sharron Krause and an expanded band, they transform entirely, producing a confident and impressive work that has spent a lot of time in my CD player of late. The music has moved away from weak, bedsit strum towards overt English folk - they deliver a rough-edged and appropriately dark 'Lyke Wake Dirge', which brought to mind the muscular sound of the unjustly-neglected Seventies folk heroes Mr Fox, and the move to a full band has produced excellent results. While embracing more traditional song forms, they have avoided slavish imitation of older folk rock. Carin Wagner's voice has new strength and confidence and works very well with Sharron Krause's. The band sound like a Mazzy Star brought up on Fairport Convention instead of country blues. The music radiates an authentic feeling of deep winter chill, even on 'Gift', which manages a startling resemblance to another obscure Seventies duo The Sallyangie (a pre-tubular Mike Oldfield with sister Sally), and in places it has echoes of Coil on the winter segment of their Solstice singles. This mini-album evinces a sea change in the nature of the band, and I can only wonder why they wanted to re-release The River Nektar almost simultaneously, as it only serves to remind listeners of quite how unpromising they once were. It will be interesting to see where they go next.
While we are on the subject of singer-songwriters, I thought I'd drop in a nod to Greg Weeks, whose Slightly West mini-album proves to be a pleasant and tuneful diversion, graced with a nice Procol Harum organ sound throughout. This is not the main reason it caught my eye, though; it has the most arresting sleeve I have seen in quite some time, and one seemingly designed to keep the disc out of many retailer's racks. It is graced with Joy of Sex style porno watercolours - the front featuring a semi-tumescent youth sprawling naked while a beauty, wearing a clearly ill-advised outfit (patchwork tunic dress, vest and kepi hat), fondles her exposed breasts as she prepares to service him, the centre spread a threesome in full swing, the back, a highly animated and completely naked lovely throttling an ostrich with a belt. Go figure.