Haruko: Wild Geese

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David Morris

12th August 2009
At 15:23 GMT

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I sought this record out after it got some glowing recommendations from many corners. Haruko is the performing name of German songwriter Susanne Stanglow, and Wild Geese is her spectral, ghostly and often brittle debut album. Fans of Alela Diane, Mariee Sioux, Pamela Wyn Shannon and the most recent femme-folkal (unwieldy ain’t it?) Sharon Van Etten will likely be feeling giddily high on the back of the bumper harvest of the past twelve months, which looks set to be capped off by a new Joanna Newsom album at the end of the year.

The only reason I am still listening to this is that Haruko does achieve an individuality on Wild Geese, unlike a whole slew of incredibly boring acoustic-picking minstrels of either sex (and of the hazy middle ground) who induce a particular nausea in me. But where I like Alela Diane, Diane Cluck and even Pamela Wyn Shannon (despite the cloying vocabulary) enough to listen to their albums from time to time, I can’t say Wild Geese is going anywhere but the recycle bin. But it’s not terrible… cue: awkward review that pleases no-one…

On first listen, before looking up any bio details, I thought “wow this is some far-out Irish lass”. But she’s German, so maybe German people who want to do the whole elaborately-pronounced-English-pastoral thing end up sounding Irish, or else she’s been listening to a lot of old recordings from the Emerald Isle. To my knowledge her closest compatriot would be Sibylle Baier, who sounds to me like someone who had listened to a lot of Leonard Cohen when she recorded the songs that made up the 2006 release Colour Green back in the early 70’s. Baier is a magnificent singer songwriter; she needs no props to make her hypnotic, warm voice and soft guitar playing stand out, she has true character and retains an essential Germanic quality in her voice despite singing in English. You can take a listen here and here.

So having spent fifteen minutes listening to Baier, the lack of character in Haruko’s music becomes more apparent upon my return to it. This isn’t meant to be as barbed as it sounds, but beyond the strange, admittedly intriguing Gallic inflections there isn’t much but inoffensive chord structures adequately picked and woodsy mystic narratives filtered through a crackly lo-fi production aesthetic which sounds like they have mastered the mp3’s directly from vinyl. I can imagine the music could become more effective when accompanying some suitable moving imagery, whether predictably folksy or not.

Whilst feeling unmoved by Wild Geese, and being unable to make specific comments about ten songs which essentially sound the same, I feel like I can understand something about the people who could well love this record. Maybe that’s you. I can see how it could hook the tendrils of imagination that sprout from the wistful eyed ones, and I can imagine how rich and real the conjured worlds could be for those who are hoping to find them.  

Rating:  5 / 10

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