Lark is the left of centre ? they?re not even driving in the yellow line, they?re canoodling somewhere in the veld, possibly digging up bulbous plants with alternative uses in mind. Hence the cute, but slightly freakish cover image of its two comprising members, depicted as/by cheeky kids.
Luna is the one in the Carolla doing exactly 90 in the middle lane. She indicates well in advance. She smiles at you as you overtake her. Her finger is tapping lightly on the steering wheel, listening to something sensible like Heather Nova. Hence a large picture of her on the cover, large brown eyes, innocent, fragile, strange prickly invasion of plants threatening her hairdo from behind.
Hailing from Cape Town, Lark is made up of Inge Beckmann (vocals, lyrics) and Paul Ressel (programming). I?ve somehow always missed them, but those who have seen them live talk of them with great respect. This EP certainly gives the impression of an interesting band looking to mix things up ? a vague link between the city?s electronic and rock scenes, which currently remains disappointingly vacant territory.
Opener ?Grey Evening? puts Lark in a nook somewhere between Bjork and Lamb (the defunct Cape Town band 1931 Raygun also comes to mind). There?s the strange lyrics (?Floating through space/ To the galacticlovespectic race?) that someone like Bjork can also get away with thanks to the kooky music it?s matched with which, coupled with the very special quality of the vocal at work, combine it all into a suprisingly consumable pop song whole. I mention Lamb, but Lark?s much less intense (maybe it?s all in the name: having a lark vs lamb to the slaughter).
?Creature? tries a bit too hard, languishing, losing the quest for a tune even before getting out of bed, while not getting right down and drippingly dark as someone like Lamb might?ve done within thirty seconds. Here the programming is very Bjork circa Vespertine - that hip sound of crickets being squashed underfoot still filling dancefloors the world over.
?Around Swings? is far better, the first two verses displaying Beckmann?s voice in a lighter context, not ashamed to sing a pretty melody, then ducking down, upping the beats for the latter half of the song. Smart.
Both ?Pearly Silver? and ?Moonlight? also get lost in similar trenches like ?Creature?, where Lark relies too much on the parts, instead of focusing on the sum. Yes, Beckmann?s voice is something truly spectacular, it reaches into words and phrases where others would never bother and Ressel?s (beatpeeps might also know his other moniker, The Humanizer) programming is solid, the beats and sounds always looking to get something different out of the deal.
But that?s not enough ? you need something sticky, something that will pop out the box and moer you in the head. It doesn?t have to be a conventional chorus or a syrupy melody. It can be something small, a little tinkle in the beat that gives it life, something creepy that makes it burst free from the expected into the truly momorable.
Final track, ?Tricksy?, has all of this. It?s bolder, with more interesting sounds jutting into the mix at unexpected angles. More Tabasco and less tomato sauce. Suddenly there?s far more intent on display, as if this one is really meant and the previous song was just a number.
More tunes like this and Lark might yet give us something to keep and treasure for years. Like any Fetish album, or fond memories of seeing the Mud Ensemble live. (If they only left us some recordings. But they didn?t, and we?re the poorer for it.)
Compared to Lark, Luna initially sounds bland and predictable. The beauty in Luna?s music is indeed of the simpler kind. The familiar, comforting sounds of acoustic instruments immediately makes it a warm, inviting record.
While Beckmann?s voice flits around you like a hummingbird, Luna?s is more the steady confidence of the leader of a flock a migrating geese (for those who remember the animated series Nils Holgerson ? what was their leader?s name again? Akka von Kebnikaizer or something. A large motherly old goose.).
While another South African songstress, Anika, immediately brings the anxious joys of Tori Amos and Ani de Franco to mind, Luna is more of a Shawn Colvin, a smooth Stevie Knicks.
There?s little pretense here. Luna?s here to craft beautiful songs, the narrative of ?Lady? introducing us to someone who influenced her life, ?All you?ll need? a straight-up lovesong, promising the lucky recipient that she?ll give him everything of hers.
?Four-four time? is a nice skirt-lifter, displaying a playful side absent from the first three tracks. The stripped-down ?Grapevine? has an instant impact, Luna?s voice upfront here, very little to distract you from its raw, yet rounded power. Throughout, extra instrumentation like viola, violin and cello lends added texture without dominating.
It?s conservative in its scope, but healthy to the last note. Yet sometimes you wish Luna would just completely let fly, rip out something harder, something with more blues out of her vocal range.
Whilst the lyrics themselves aren?t a strong point, her phrasing (like Beckmann?s) is very good despite the strong conventions within which she works. Less so her pronunciation, which often loses words ? as often happens with singers with all-powerful voices ? as if she?s singing with an olive under her tongue.
?Lullaby? has a catchy chorus, going from low to high in range with great ease. Accompanied by light guitar touches and Francious Kruger (gone are the days of drumming to SNGs ?Grrr??) tickling the drums, it?s one of the best songs on this mini-album. ?Winter?s Near? is a solid closer, speckled with astonishing vocal moments and subtle, mood-enhancing strings.
Though worlds apart, both Lark and Luna deserve to be checked out. It all comes down to what stirs your slaai: if it?s hip and modern and running through a blacked-out city with a torch and a spraycan, then it?s Lark you?d like. If it?s lying in a hot bath with the new Marie Claire thinking about sushi, then it?s Luna.