There are some records that really benefit from close inspection, a concerted session of sitting and listening, free from other distractions. Every now and then you even benefit from a session with the headphones on, which unless you’ve got a pair of fancy Bluetooth jobbies really does tether you to the spot. One such album is Carrie Tree’s brand new Home To The Invisible, a record so brimful of subtle nuance, interesting musical textures, emotional hooks and surprises, that the closer the listening experience the better it gets.
Of course you could argue that the same is true for all music. Perhaps it’s worth explaining, however, that my preferred method of listening is very much CD based, thus letting me play the music in my kitchen several times over, often while I’m doing other things. That way the music tends to find its own ways into my consciousness and so when I do then give something my full attention, there are already certain aspects of a record that feel familiar. When I finally listen to something properly, it just sort of takes over and I have to finally stop doing anything else and just listen.
With Carrie’s Home To The Invisible, I only had access to files to download. Although not my first choice, I can plug the laptop into the proper hi-fi and get over the lack of shiny silver disc. But the download coincided with a new pair of headphones, the combination of the two suggested a worthy experiment that in fact proved to be something of a revelation.
Although a new name to me the Brighton based Carrie Tree has an established career and as well as being a regular on the more alternative festival circuit, Shambala, Buddhafields, Sunrise and William’s stage at Glastonbury, she has also worked and toured with the likes of Damien Rice, Fink, Duke Special, Rumer, Carly Simon, Ben Taylor and Martha Tilston. Perhaps most significantly last year also saw her appear on the Dermot O’Leary’s BBC Radio 2 show as vocalist in Andy Barlow’s (Lamb) new project Lowb performing a cover of Portishead’s Glory Box, which also make the album here.
It all adds up to something that suggests a free spirit with the prospect of a varied career ahead and also an eclectic palate of musical inspiration and expression. At first glance the credits for the album, with over thirty musicians and singers on the roll call, further enhance ideas of heady, varied creativity. But the great joy of this record is that it matches such ambition with a quiet grace rather than a being in your face. It makes such light use of a great array of instruments and sounds so easy on the ear, but the apparent restraint is deceptive and that’s where paying proper, close attention really is key.
The most obvious headlines amongst the cast of musicians are the presence of members of Ladysmith Black Mambazo and the late Miriam Makeba’s band contributing to the album and the trip to Durban to record with them. Mama Kita, for which we’ve already posted a video (also below) is one of two of Carrie’s songs to feature the South African connection. They integrate so seamlessly, the natural flow of the record ripples with their presence as obvious as it may be. Both Mama Kita and Thousand Days are utterly sublime, the rhythms, the percussion, the seismic throb of the bass, the layering of voices that blend so perfectly with Carrie’s gentle whisper. (Sigh!)
The video itself seems to be shot through with a return to the natural world, the feather, the dirt and stones, sun-hazed, barefoot, elfin charm and a night time campfire made the ancient way, from the friction of wood on wood and the tending of the spark. If anything it’s the connection to nature that is the bigger presence, with several of the song titles echoing that theme. It’s there too in some of Carrie’s lyrics. The cancer of concrete, the wind in the trees and the rain, the consequences of our carefree exploitation of our environment, the sun and the soil, the positive and the negative, perhaps within all of this is Carrie’s quest to find her own place, but one more in balance with the natural world, as well as her internal emotional landscape.
It finds expression in surprising ways too, notably the percussion used, with Rowan Sterk, earning a co-producers credit, injecting the rhythm with all manner of intrigues and different, natural sounds. It creates an almost organic living, breathing soundbed for Carrie’s songs. Take Perfectly Cast, filled with little bubbles, brushes and babbles, scrapes and splashes, they hover just below Carrie’s close up, intimate delivery, the effect is mesmeric and as much part of the melodic flow as the rhythmic propulsion. With strings and clarinet, the song shimmers with micro detail yet also has a magical, holistic sense of progression, as Carrie again seems to be singing about the connectivity and eternal threads of love and life, our continuity and our ghosts.
That kind of details and also that over arching perspective, albeit perhaps from a slightly different view point, are there form the opener Never Said Goodbye. It starts simply enough with an acoustic guitar figure, but as Carrie starts to sing the complexity of the arrangement seems to grow around her. Her voice straight away has a gentle intimacy that draws you into the song as if she’s letting on a little secret for your ears only. It’s about a journey and waiting for a plane, with an hour to kill and she sings, “As tired as I seem and floating on dreams that almost came true.” But as she get’s to the crunch with, “I never finished what I began and I never said goodbye,” theres a lump in the throat and tear in the eye. A breathy flute adds a poignant tug and the swell of strings fully drags you into the undertow of the bittersweet melody, at once gorgeous and devastating.
Better Next Time cuts trough similar emotional territory, but if there is a troubled heart, there is also a good heart and the title at least offers the hope of a happier future. It’s highly emotive stuff that might well be about Carrie’s relationship with here creative Muse as it is about any love interest, but that’s for you, the listener, to divine. Her lyrical skill, however, clearly writ large through this record and her skill is in creating layers, offering insight and unravelling the common threads that connect us all.
Those natural elements make their presence felt in analogy and actuality through songs like Wild Winds, Sweet Oak Tree and perhaps most directly in Water Song. Our most precious resource and a fundamental of our loves, yet for those for whom it is on tap something that is taken for granted. The poising of natural resources and our rapacious consumption are in Carrie’s sights, with a prayer that we are waking up. The message here is loud and clear the delivery is beguiling rather than tub thumping.
Portishead’s Glory Box is also given a seductive acoustic and Carrie wraps here voice around the songs core, sensitive and alluring, fragile yet enduring. It’s perhaps this duality that runs through this record. For all of its ease, it’s infinitely complex, for all of the micro detail nothing distracts for the whole, for all of its fragility its strong, it grabs and holds your attention with a whisper and a caress, Carries stories are veiled in mystery hidden in plain sight, yet for all of its ethereal delights Home To The Invisible is tied to the rhythms of the nature world. Her songs are also quite long but don’t drag their heels and instead have the room to develop into things of real substance and worth. It’s worth giving this your proper, undivided attention too, as it’s not the devil you’ll find in the details, but a real slice of the divine.
Review by: Simon Holland
07 FARNHAM, Bridge Square Farnham Surrey GU9 7QR
08 WHITSTABLE, 11 Horsebridge Road, Whitstable, Kent CT5 1AF *
09 LEWES CON CLUB, 139 High Street Lewes East Sussex BN7 1XS *
13 TOTNES, The Stables, Ford Road, Totnes, TQ9 5LE *
20 BIRMINGHAM, 106, High st, Kings Heath, B14 7JZ, Birmingham *
03 SLAUGHTERED LAMB, 34 – 35 Great Sutton St. Clerkenwell, London, EC1V 0DX *
* Carrie Tree & House of Hats
Home To The Invisible is released in March 2014