Mishaped Pearls – Shivelight

Album Review | Mishaped Records | Review by Marc Higgins | Stars: 5/5

Mishaped Pearls formed around the duo of multi-instrumentalist Ged Flood and vocalist Manuela Schuette, their second album Thamesis released in 2014 was a real stop and listen moment. Shivelight, named after a word in a Gerard Manley Hopkins poem meaning the lances of sunlight that pierce the canopy of a wood. Right from the start there is a sense of the surprise of bright sunlight against the gloom of the forest. Of the balance and sparking interest created by chiaroscuro. “The Cuckoo” a version of the English Folk song, after the dreamy almost hallucinogenic Thamesis, has a much harder edge, like a raw Appalachian song played around a pulsing electronic beat. Manuela Schuette’s beautiful voice, surely one of ‘the voices’ around, is set against an eerie drone violin. The guitar rhythm at times sounds like an autoharp. It might be the mentions of log cabins, mountains and associated imagery, but the track sounds like it’s played on a Blue Mountains porch by the couple from Grant Woods’ American Gothic painting. “Queen May”, a rework of the Christmas carol Down in yon forest, has a sublime stroked guitar part I could listen to all day, the vocals from Ged and Manuela sound like they are just breathed out. There is an obvious nod back to the perfection of the Thamesis album with the strings, but the West African sounding guitar weaving over the top pushes the track into something new, something exciting and strange, a true fusion of music with the ‘so English’ chorus vocals against the staccato guitar like part. Nature permeates through Shivelight and the lyrics of back to back songs “Nature Waking” and “Fishes” brim with pastoral images of early morning reveres and the world in flight. “Nature Waking” has another of those earworm African guitar or Turkish Saz Baglama parts. Its percussive and exotic sound, plus the mouth harp like sound that drifts through, help build a evocative kind of folktronica or steampunk feel where ancient and modern weave, then blend together. Ged Flood, whose vocals we hear on this track, wanted to make an album that was musically modern in its approach, with a wide variety of instruments and soundscapes but also lyrically interesting with topical subject matter as well as stories from the past. Three or four tracks in and it is clear that Mishaped Pearls have achieved that and then some. As a reviewer, captivated by a new album, there is a danger that you gush and then it doesn’t capture others. You feel like you are the early identifier of something pivotal, a zeitgeist and misjudge it. However, after two very significant albums I’m going to call it, Thamesis and Shivelight, for me place Mishaped Pearls alongside 60s Fairport or Steeleye Span mark 1 and 2 as a force to be reckoned with and treasured. If no one else agrees it’s their loss. “Fishes” mixes up an electronica rhythm with hypnotic vocals, some thoughtful lyrics and Lauren S Pardue’s glorious Folk Rock violin. Pardue’s atmospheric violin and those wonderful vocals continue on “Jonny’s War”. This is no “Fighting for Strangers” or “Plains of Waterloo” though, the song, slowed down to a trance like contemplative state deals with depression and inner conflict. “Jesus’ Crooked Shadow” is another perfect example of old and new melded to create a captivating whole. Vocal chants and loop cuts fracture the song while Manuela shines at her classical best over the top. Think Ommadawn or Incantation era Mike Oldfield meeting Wilhelmenia Fernández’s “La Wally” from French film Diva. “Three Cries” is a personal song written and sung by Flood, prompted by his late Dublin born mother’s imprisonment for circulating Free Ireland leaflets in Dublin. That Flood includes elements of the Irish song “The Auld Triangle” is no coincidental mash up. The song first appeared in a Brendan Behan play and details the day to day routine in Mountjoy Prison, where Flood’s mother was held and the day is punctuated by the jailers ringing of the old triangle. “Three Cries” is an anthemic quiet storm. Ged’s singing, the chorus and inclusion of elements of a classic song create another glorious earworm. Western sounding strings and the Andean charango charge up the insistent “When Summers Stood Still” a song that marries perfectly memories of long childhood summers and the realisation that we might be running out of time on this planet in a darkly hypnotic whole. “Nursery Rhyme no 9” written by Flood for a ukulele class of young children, could be the thoughts of that summer bound kid. The album ends suddenly at the end of this innocent dirty with a powerful punchline. Mishaped Pearls album Thamesis was a dreamy stunner, Shivelight manages to build on that strong set, making something that consolidates and exponentially grows their sound and appeal. If the former album was a dreamer dozing by the banks of the Royal River, Shivelight is a joyful shouted set of poems too insistent and too beautiful to be ignored.