Barren Harvest – Subtle Cruelties (Handmade Birds)Tuesday, 25th March 2014
Caution: Neo-music. Darkish neo-folk to be more precise. Does that even make sense, neo-folk? Regardless of genre, any with the word “neo” in front of it is bound to be either interesting in creativity or rejected by means of inadequacy. In this case, along with most neo/nu bands, it’s the latter.
Barren Harvest are a duet of Lenny Smith (Atriarch/Trees) and Jessica Way (Worm Ouroboros). Smith solely uses his wraithlike spoken-word vocal style, Way strains to exhale her semi-operatic chorus voice. Judging by the chirping birds and other nature-based themes, it’s apparent they’re trying to recreate serene nature scenes. Really, Subtle Cruelties is more like taking the serenity of silence (largely lacking in instrumental vigor) along with two phantom-esque vocalists; Smith’s vocals, however, being much more scarce and distant than Ways’.
Regarding neo-folk as a genre, Barren Harvest demonstrate how it takes traditional virtues out of folk music forms. The only folk-like music characteristic here is that Way plays the autoharp, a.k.a. auto-harpy, idiot zither, or a zither with buttons on it, which is one of the simplest of all instruments to play. And just because there’s a sound to be heard doesn’t mean it must awkwardly stand alone, hence the short-stopped and long-spaced string plucking in “Memoriam V.” Where’s the liveliness in this album? “The Bleeding” is one piece that actually works with their facets. Not so much do the seconds-long filler songs, if frivolously scurried whispers are considered “songs,” nor do the tracks that drudge on and on without a slightest change of tempo or dynamics. Even its most remote hiding places, nature is hardly dull and lethargic as Subtle Cruelties.
Barren Harvest’s latest work is quite like a barren harvest – it has some structure and productiveness but not a lot of fruitfulness, overall a poor production. Lenny Smith scarcely sings (no metal vox at that) and synthesizes atmosphere, but is not part of the dry source of instrumentals. Jessica Way is a shoddy instrumentalist and only sometimes has a somewhat tolerable voice. Such matters topped with bland flavors make Subtle Cruelties very mundane, to say the least.