Painted Girl - Familiar Trees of the North West
Familiar Trees of the North West
May 22, 2022
Get out of the house begins with loose percussive sounds vying for supremacy, the trickling noises suddenly leading into a droning organ line. That familiar Sawak sound oozes in, jaunted and slightly ominous. Guitar notes curling up at the end of each bar as a steady drum beat calmly steps forward. A booming voice shouts, urgency and disdain lacquering their tone. As the narrative proceeds, Sawak include a number of imaginative layers to the instrumentation, including glockenspiel melodies and archangel choirs. The protagonist calls their girlfriend in frantic panic as their house burns down, the girlfriend making light of their situation. The theme of cold detachment run deep in Sawak’s work. Here, on what is their last album as a band, they thrust this theme into the face of the listener from the outset.
A simplistic piano line sets out the basis for Requiem for a cathedral. Similar to the previous track, but with melancholia replacing what was a dormant anger before. More choral atmosphere as a synth pad phases in and out, sounding at points like a lone singer. A guitar plays out a solemn tune, wailing in between notes before finding a brooding conclusion. The mellow tone of the guitar is pushed to the front of the mix as we listen to revolve. The track shoots less for the epic vision of a cathedral amidst unforgiving flames, but rather achieves a sound illustrating the whispering lament as the once proud building lays in ash.
Mosul brings us to a more neutral feeling. A group of people singing in unison is followed by a reassuring, transcendental guitar line. A female vocalist stumbles into the instrumentation, her performance beautifully presented, her voice strained with emotion. The shroud of ruminative music shuffles past her, and after a while finds a group of singers within its hazy innards. Sawak perform side by side with some sort of religious happening, the two helping each other to push forward, the steady bassline like semi-confident steps into the unknown. There is something in the multi-faceted nature of the track that perfectly conveys the band’s welcoming nature. Voices of different shapes and sizes come and go as they please, the band more than happy to provide them with a home, if only for a short while.
Sawak leave us in the misty uncertainty as we make our way into Anticorpse, reversed and manipulated sounds appear gradually. Spoken word samples inch into the periphery, on the very precipice of audibility, creating a feeling of uncanniness. The manipulated sounds that play out have fallen into a hypnotic rhythm. The band finally let these amorphous noises overrun the track, bathing it in euphoria. Reversed pianos sweep down from the ether above, slowly forming a melody barely audible through the cacophony of echoes. The entrancing nature of the track maintains though the texture shifts tremendously. Sawak venture into more epic sounds on this track. Having said that, uncertainty and imbalance creep forth, as pads ebb in with eerie sequences and a twinkling piano sound dances ominously.
A beast alone takes a more straightforward trajectory as a typical band song. The vocalist croons out in a broken Ian Curtis-like style over snarling resonant chords. The lyrics, unsurprisingly, are about transition. A wild creature moving onto new things, stuck in the unforgiving landscapes of the unknown. As the seething energy reaches its tipping point at the end of each chord, a raw and powerful guitar spits out a high pitched riff accenting the track with a rage that lashes out sporadically. Suddenly, the impact of the guitars and drums smashes through to a dark and shadowy place. Warning drones give a fleeting home to a Nietzsche quote, delivered with a notable lack of affection. From there, we find ourselves adrift like so many times before. The band hides behind layers of fog and non-sequiturial soundbites.
A frustrated hand wades through the contents of what sounds like a swamp, as we hear viscous water pushed out of the way hastily and with annoyance. Droning notes begin to encroach from the banks of the body of water we find ourselves in. Off the back of these haunting sounds, higher pitched tones begin to snake around us. A voice finds us, as it explains a near death experience where the person found themselves deep underwater. Sawak begin to turn up the intensity, guitars coo like whales and percussion fizzles like the listener’s ears are submerged leagues under the sea. The speaker describes a feeling of peace surrounding the almost imminent demise they face. No panic or fear about their fate. A calm acceptance of the possible end of things.
In the forest brightens up the soundscape with the chiming of xylophones in a happy and carefree sequence. An acoustic guitar joins in, playing in a more sour tone as the plinking notes fall out of earshot. A voice helps the song along as it loses all sense of cognisance and veers into a limbo of sounds. A light drumming begins amidst incidental noise. A new sound comes speeding past, picking us up with it. A quaint and slightly out of tune franticness takes the narrative of the song momentarily, dropping it a second later. Sawak picks up moods and feelings to drop them a second later as the track descends into a tumultuous affair pulling in various directions. Whining guitars slowly career into view as a choral rendition of The Lord is My Shepherd echoes toward us. The atmosphere is restrained, these two contrasting sounds kept from each other like prisoners in neighbouring cells. An aggressive voice over guitar and drums smouldering with emotion. Then we are thrown back toward that quaint, frantic tune from before. A gaggle of creatures begin to wail and cry alongside the band.
A wonderful, unfeigned guitar melody begins to unfurl, accompanied by a slightly wavering string. Another voice welcomed in by the band takes its place on the stage, a youthful, passionate speech through a muffled speaker. The band fall into those recognisable positions, pushing the narrative on ever so gently, showcasing this wonderful talent and dynamic. A flute rises from the ground, fluttering and wavering slightly in the breeze. They employ synthesised choirs once again, toying with ardent vocals awash with artificiality. Each change in note and chord pushing out into the sunlight. As Sawak find their final chord, the choir burst forth again, reciting Psalm 23. Everything is ebullient and alight with emotion, before it curls suddenly back into silence.
The Girl Behind the Forest finds the unlikely quartet stomping around that now familiar basement in Krakow one last time. They revisit sounds and styles that have now become an archetype for them, before letting the beauty of their artistic creation soar into the sunlight. The group of four have an astounding talent when it comes to pulling together raw instrumentation and callous themes with moments of real reflection and thoughtfulness. Nowhere is this more evident than here, on their final album.