Rusalnaia began life in 2008 when Sharron Kraus began working with her then neighbour, Gillian Chadwick, in Fishtown, Philadelphia. Their debut release was an eerie, eldritch affair, that went under the broad banner of ‘pagan folk’. Eight years later, and we are finally treated to a follow-up. This time recorded in Wales, where Kraus lived for a number of years. With Michael Tanner of Plinth and United Bible Studies at the helm, it is a heavier, headier brew, dealing with more specific and personal lyrical concerns – notably the break-up of the American musical community that nourished both artists.
Despite the obvious differences between Time Takes Away and its predecessor, the duo have lost none of the earthy and at times joyful femininity that characterised that first record – think Mellow Candle meets Comus. The first track here, Cast A Spell, is a thrilling incantation that erupts into an intense psych-rock freakout. The distinctly, gleefully feminine slant on what often seems to be a male-dominated sub-genre is evidence of the musical confidence these two possess. It is a bold statement of intent.
In fact, the album is chock-full of such statements. The gentle pastoralia and beautiful vocal interplay of Take Me Back is darkened by booming percussion that sounds uncannily like Richard Strauss’s Also Sprach Zarathustra (the piece made famous by 2001: A Space Odyssey). Driving, with its fittingly propulsive rhythm and liquid lead guitar, proves they can do melody as well as mood, and The Love I Want is potent, pungent folk-rock in the Espers vein, full of haunting whistles and spiralling vocals.
The Beast is a fuzzy, chugging psych-rocker, elevated by the doubled-up lead vocal, and in fact it soon becomes apparent that Kraus and Chadwick’s singing – constantly pitched between struggle and complement – is the factor that gives this album much of its startling beauty. The Honeymoon Is Over becomes a languid pagan rite, and Bright Things‘ simplicity is leant an air of vague threat by vocals that stay just on the right side of strident.
One of the least immediate but ultimately most satisfying moments is Lullaby (For A Future Generation), a soothing swirl with a barely tangible hint of darkness. But the sweetest melody is that of the title track, which rounds the album off on a note of hope. Ostensibly a piece of indie-folk whimsy, the duo’s unconventional choice of instrumentation kicks it into Incredible String Band territory, and in fact there is something ISB-like in the structure of the record as a whole, thanks in no small part to the dual dynamic that Chadwick and Kraus bring to proceedings. This is music that celebrates and is born out of friendship, and as such is a testament to the aesthetic and moral benefits of collaborative creativity. Its very originality makes it difficult to categorise, so I will just say that it is one of the most stunning albums I have heard all year, and one whose power remains long after the songs have faded.
Time Takes Away is Out Now via Cambrian Records
Order via Bandcamp (Digital / CD) rusalnaia.bandcamp.com