By Bernard Zuel.
Charm of Finches – Wonderful Oblivion (AntiFragile Music)
On their third LP Melbourne-based siblings – Ivy and Mabel Windred-Wornes – beg to differ with L.P. Hartley. For them, the past isn’t a foreign country where they do things differently. In fact, the past isn’t even that past.
Beautifully set and quite entrancing, their voices and the light baroque pop arrangements only just tethered to conventional folkish/pop—ish solidity, Wonderful Oblivion in one sense might be described as built on premature or pre-emptive nostalgia.
While not as laced with loss and a deep core of mourning as its lushly appealing predecessor, Your Company, this is an album suffused with reflections and not-so-idle wondering if things could have been different; with appraisals of the present steeped in both experience from and the gaps of the past; and with a clear understanding that the future is not something to be assayed.
The characters and the stories travel as far as this moment, and no further.
As A Child, a song delicately poised between a threnody and a lullaby, wonders if the light of magic which enlivened childhood must be abandoned in adulthood, as “In the blink of an eye/You wake up and find all the magic is gone”. To the accompaniment of piano and strings that are almost ephemeral, it asks, without an answer being necessary, what is lost in doing so?
It’s not that either of the sisters is running hard, back to that time, but there is a bit of a wistful sigh even within the very adult, very now concerns of Pockets Of Stones, where the fragility of ego and the flaws of the body are as entwined as the lovers’ flesh when confessions are made.
A firmer, piano-led, arrangement operates almost recessively most of the song, subordinate to the voices which play slightly against each other, back and forth between frankness and fear, between the settling present and the fragile past.
Speaking of fear, there’s the closing section of the album, from the airy drift of the beguiling but still not yet secure Canyon (“And we’ll lift off over a canyon/And we’ll lift off, not knowing if we’ll cross” may sound like possibility to you but could be nameless terror to your neighbour) to the terminal in more ways than one title track.
As well as passing through the 40 second instrumental, Into The Well, which serves as a kind of crossing-the-Styx meditative interlude, the sequence moves from the potential of death to Wonderful Oblivion’s acceptance of it in a gorgeous, entwined high/low vocal over glistening guitar, that might in less secular hands be called angelic.
Tellingly though, the place reached finds us once again at a point where the past and the present no longer seem separated, and future is irrelevant. “And somehow I know that I’ve seen this moment/Somewhere between here, there and dreaming/And the things that you say/Are an echo’s decay/Like somehow I had already heard them.”
Does this make it the kind of album we shouldn’t be surprised to get after two years of the world and our lives effectively being put on hold? A chance to grip what we know and find solace because who knows whether oblivion will be wonderful, and too soon?
After all, the album begins with the rhythmic folk traditional, Concentrate On Breathing, written during Melbourne’s 2020 lockdown and constructed as both lesson and reminder to “let your thoughts fall like water to the floor” rather than dwell on what might be.
Maybe so. But don’t let that suggest something stilted or hidebound, for Wonderful Oblivion still playfully revels in its own atmosphere and its capacity for beauty, whether it is the courtly dance of Gravity and the circular flavour of Treading Water, or the forlorn but shimmering grace of Goodnight, the one song directly about loss.
For now, it’s enough to say that Ivy and Mabel Windred-Wornes give reason to let revelation and speculation sit to one side and let the moment be. For as long as it takes.