Josephine Foster’s Little Life is a very welcome re-release, good on Fire Records for bringing it back into the fray. The memorable cover of the girl holding a couple of life giving eggs in each hand and the symmetry of her white egg-shaped eyeballs has been burnt onto my retinas ever since I first got hold of a copy. It first made its way to me in the form of a self released CD-R I purchased at a show that I organised for her in Leeds back in 2008. The new format size of the 10” finally does the cover photo justice. But never fear, those without a turntable can mount the 10” on the fire place in pride of place and make use of the CD version included inside the record sleeve.
The music that comprises this EP is one of the very first times Foster set aside some time to self-record her own compositions. I often find the ‘self-recorded 4-track period’ in the career of any artist of note has a special scratchy magic to it that I always yearn forever after whilst the artist usually scorn that they ever could be so primitive. I’m a primitive guy, what can I say.
Take the new Black Sabbath single ‘13’ for example. Listening to the individual performances and mellow metal hooks you feel that they’ve not really changed, but the technology and production has. It’s all sheen and gloss, go back to 1970 with their original Debut album ‘Black Sabbath’ the mixing is all over the place but it’s that crudeness that makes their sound all the more endearing.
Anyway, enough of Prince of Darkness, let’s get back to the queen of esoteric light. The EP starts off with Shay shay, which is about a true-life encounter with two girls from the projects that invited Josephine into the sea with all her “clothes-ies” for a swim. The strumming ukulele perfectly matches the 4-track aesthetic.
Stones in my Heavy bag follows and drips with white washed glory. The overdubbed backing vocals conjure up dazzlingly dreamy images that wouldn’t be out of place in a scene from Max Ophuls’s ‘La plaisir’.
Then tracks such as Charles in the park, Three Day Days and Warsong contain toe-tapping rhythms. They conjure up forgotten nursery rhymes that never actually existed during my childhood, but should have. So it doesn’t come as much of a surprise to find out that many of these songs were written and recorded by Foster while she was working as a music teacher for young children. These simplified rhythms, apparently inspired in part by Ella Jenkins, who was a staple of her musical youth as well as Tin Pan Alley, Afro-American chants and Seeger family folk songs. These song structures were easy enough for the children Foster was teaching to pick up and get into. There must have been some fun music lessons, as many of the songs are named after and inspired by her students!
Hells Bells Are Ringing sits apart from the children’s nursery rhymes and conjures up slow motion burning rage, somehow supported by a seat of sweetness.
Every now and then Josephine Foster comes out with a real heart wrenching showstopper. The track Little Life can be safely categorised as one of these. From the very familiar sound of childhood nursery rhymes we get swept back up into that esoteric dream world, maybe even goes a little deeper this time. Little Life was featured on Devendra Banharts’s ‘Golden Apples of the Sun’ and helped this unique talent get heard by the wider world. If you’re a fan, you need to add this to your collection.
Review by: Harry Wheeler
14 Aug – Belfast – Limelight 2 – with Swans
15 Aug – Dublin – Button Factory – with Swans
16 Aug – Cork – Cyprus Avenue
17-18 Aug Woolf Music, Wiltshire
26 Oct – Birmingham – Bring To Light Festival