Review: Lisa Cuthbert “Hextapes”

Review: Lisa Cuthbert “Hextapes”

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Lisa Cuthbert “Hextapes”
Iron Bonehead productions

It feels like we’re experiencing something approaching of a golden age of female vocalists, the likes of Darkher, Myrkur and Chelsea Wolfe picking up the flickering torch lit almost 30 years ago by Liz Frazer of the spellbinding Cocteau Twins.

Another female voice to enter the realm of the edgy and the ethereal is Lisa Cuthbert. While not possessing quite the same mystical name as the aforementioned, Lisa has generated plenty of interest within the darklands of the underground music scene.

She has supported the likes of 80s goth titans Sisters of Mercy and more current artists such as Ulver while Triptykon frontman Tom G Warrior is also said to be an admirer of her work. Irish by birth, Lisa is now Berlin-based, in many ways the perfect home to her mercurial talents, as it was to Nico during her alliance with the Velvet Underground almost 50 years ago.

Hextapes is a sultry, if not sullen, mix of wispy vocals, gently sung over distant melodies, crush velvet harmonies interspersed with occasionally disconcerting electronic drones. That’s certainly the case with album opener ‘Killing Fields’ which begins with an extended arced drone that is slowly replaced by Lisa’s soft tones and a hauntingly distracting rhythmic pattern.

The slow moving ‘The Host Wants A Parasite’ is much more colourful, in a kind of translucent way, as Lisa reveals more of her vocal range, while maintaining that holistic earthmother Celtic feel. ‘Under The Stars’ is another melancholic heart-warmer, in which Lisa seamlessly merges subtle shades which together form an astrophysical aural rainbow.

Lisa recorded the album in her home studio, which she calls her Hex-cave. Hextapes attempts to capture the emotions at a particular time in her life, with the prevailing winds blowing a mournful and yet melancholic ambience that permeate a song such as ‘Eye’. A gospel like choir takes ‘Eye’ off in a slightly different direction initially before a somnambulant drone, combined with Lisa’s deep lush tones create a mood similar in tempo and feel to Siouxsie and the Banshees’ inspired version of The Beatles’ classic ‘Dear Prudence,” back in the 80s.

‘Will’ is a three minute piano concerto which that veers violently like a lilting ship about to crash on the rocks

At nearly eight minutes, ‘Effigy’ is the longest track on Hextapes and of the most mournful, which takes some doing on this album. The track probes at your inner soul, giving the early impression that more profound questions lie in wait. In fact that doesn’t happen as the soft strains scarcely deviate, content within themselves to remain on the same immersive path with no beginning and seemingly no end.

Lisa is more expressive on ‘Pillar,’ a song on which she allows more expression to reign even emitting a cleaner, rounder, singing style to shine through as the rhythmic grooves veer towards deeper roots. ‘Hands Clean’ is a splendid rousing album closer, on which the lines are drawn deeper and darker, Lisa almost letting herself go as the aural winds start to blow more fiercely.

Although a dark, and in many ways unnerving album, Hextapes has sufficient shimmering passages to make for an enlightening listen. In many ways the perfect backdrop to the oncoming darker nights, the cold imagery of most of the songs on the album, still possess a warm heart.

Hextapes first saw the light last Spring, via Bandcamp, supplemented with a now sought after limited-edition cassette run. A recent tour saw Iron Bonehead step up, releasing the album on vinyl to mark the live dates.

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