Under The Surface goes Dutch on Miin Triuwa.
Dutch, to be precise, as it is the language of The Netherlands' early medieval period that provides the grist to singer Sanne Rambags
' poetic mill. It is a concept as unexpected as it is original, but three albums into its fascinating journey, the trio co-founded by drummer Joost Lijbaart
, guitarist Bram Stadhouders
and Rambags is synonymous with experimentation. Its eponymous debut album
(Challenge Records, 2017), which embraced silence as another potent instrument, and the live recording Trinity
, (Challenge Records, 2019), were both constructed from spontaneous improvisations, highlighting the trust that is the bedrock of Under The Surface's unique sound. It is a sound that flourishes somewhere between avant-folk and contemporary chamber jazz.
By contrast, the music on Miin Triuwa
written by Stadhoudersfollows a through-composed path, though improvisation remains a key component. Martial drums and a harmonium-drone course through "Bure Thii Northwint," a stirring anthem that evokes the more progressive edge of Irish folk legends Clannad. Rambags' incantation implores the winds north and south to cleanse her suffering soul; Stadhouders responds to her pleas with beautifully sculpted solos on electric and then acoustic guitar. Lijbaart's percussive accents and rhythmic agility shape the music in subtle but no less powerful ways. It is a stunning opener.
Rambags captivates on "Samo Stark So The Dooth," a haunting acoustic vignette that occupies a space somewhere between lullaby and ancient hymn. As sole lyricist, Rambags' tales of love "as strong as death
," of inner fears, her prayers and invocations to the forces of nature, are deeply poetic, regardless of language. Her rhythms and silvery tone, tinged with longing and melancholy, imbue the music with emotional heft. But Under The Surface can also whip up a storm, as on "Vrohta Endi Bivunga," where rhythmic drive, tumbling guitar lines and soaring vocals coalesce to powerful affect.
Since its inception in 2015, Under The Surface has gigged far and wide, absorbing new musical colors along the way. "Over Himila," which marries distant thundering drums, feathery guitar melodicism and a vocal mantra, is based on a traditional African chord progression. A 2019 tour of Central Asia planted the seeds for "Thiin Stemma Skelle in Ewon," a handsome folk tune based on a traditional Tajik melody. Here, Rambags' caressing vocals predominate, though it is Stadhouders' solo intervention that elevates the music.
Tender vocals and shimmering lyre arpeggios gently usher in "Sunna Wisheida." The reverie soon gives way to cantering African rhythmsplayed on glockenspieland wordless chant that conspire infectiously. Such shifts in atmosphere, pulse and emotional weight also characterize "Reinon Githankon," with ethereal vocals at one pole and driving drums, bass ostinato and searching guitar at the other. It is these seamless transitions in dynamics that make for such compelling narratives. Nowhere is this more potently demonstrated than on the title track, where song and spoken word, acoustic grace and electric fire, flamenco and progressive folk leanings conjure shifting soundscapes of epic qualities.
Though Miin Triuwa
cannot fit snugly into any one box, especially with its embrace of medieval language, the music speaks of universal truths. How could it be otherwise, when its inspiration spans the bridges of both time and geography, drawing on the worship of nature, human frailties and the power of love and prayer? Powerfully beguiling from first note to last and an early contender for album of the year, across any number of categories. Magical stuff.
Bure Thii Northwint; Samo Stark So The Dooth; Vrohta Endi Bivunga; Over Himila; Sunna Wisheida; Reinon
Githankon; Miin Triuwa; Thiin Stemma Skelle In Ewon.
Joost Lijbaart: percussion, glockenspiel, harmonium; Bram Stadhouders: electric bass, lyre, synthesizer, Wurlitzer,