Andy Ervik

Leafcutter John
"The Housebound Spirit"

26th April 2004
reviewer: Andy Ervik
rating: 5 out of 5
published by: Planet Mu
released: 7th July 2003
  1. 42
  2. Electric Love
  3. If You Have An Enemy
  4. Khom?S
  5. Walk On My Back
  6. Recain
  7. Mandolin Work
  8. Short Sine
  9. House Of A Soul
  10. For Two
  11. All I Could Think Of Was Nothing
  12. Arches Never Sleep
  13. Escape From The Globus Playpen
  14. Dead Men Can't Talk, They Can't Do Anything
  15. Know Mercy

John Burton studied art and was to follow in his father’s footsteps to become a painter. After a year at the school he found out that, even though he was good at painting, it wasn’t right for him. He realised that making music to be used in galleries was much more rewarding and therefore turned his complete attention this. John had been playing piano since he was a little child and learnt to play the guitar from books and friends. Some of his friends also introduced him to electronic music and musique concrčte and he therefore purchased a computer. After four years of toying with that he sent a demo to Planet-µ and the rest you probably know; in 2000 he released the 'Concourse EEP' and the album 'Microcontact'.

Last year, in 2003, he released a new CD, entitled 'The Housebound Spirit'. It features himself on guitar, accordion and xylophone. He uses cuts of mandolin sounds, sings, arranges orchestral scores, produces beats and glitches, layers effects, and uses field recordings as well as some guests popping in to play along. Leafcutter John’s latest album is completely without comparison in today’s electronic music. He fuses avant-garde techniques and abstract visual music with folk and traditional elements. The contradictions are plentiful on the album and the two very different poles reflect each other in an extraordinary way.

The two first tracks, '42' and 'Electric Love', are of an abstract kind, refusing to stay in one place, and are instead constantly changing and quite hard to follow. After some time the music morphs into an imagined love scene with jazzy rhythms, and vocals from Nautilis. It then changes again and turns into what at first sounds like a dinner in a fancy restaurant with trumpets and glasses, forks and knifes clinking; then John decides to add a choir over Nautilis' worrying “love scene” before fellow µ-artists (and some other artists too) scream in an unexpected climax of the song.

More abstract soundscapes follow on track three 'If You Have An Enemy' but after about two minutes a melody becomes apparent, played on cello by Matthew Peters and on guitar by John Burton, before it all breaks down and John’s soothing voice comes into display. He repeats the phrase: “If you have an enemy, then I should have one too” still backed by guitar and cello. The track is powerful in itself, but in contrast to the opening the effect of the music is even more overwhelming and ear-pleasing.

On Khom?s he is joined by singer Kazumi E. Dulwich who complement the electroacoustic music perfectly, as John plays guitar and send beats that in the end sounds quite reminiscent of some of the trickery in Aphex Twin’s Windowlicker. On Recain he is helped along by yet another Leafcutter player: Leo Chadburn, who features here with recordings of (among other things) a running shower and rubbing “isopor-insulation” on a window. Track number 7, 'Mandolin Work', is one of the highlights on the album, featuring cut-up and effect-laden mandolin playing. 'For Two' is a duo between John, on the accordion, and Rachel Lipson, on clarinet. The dizzying merry-go-around 'Dead Men Can’t Talk, They Can’t Do Anything' is one of the most successful uses of panning that I have experienced (this should be listened to drunk, on a boat, with closed eyes, focusing to follow the music that spins around your head with your eyes underneath your eyelids for full effect).

John Burton has found a perfect match between the existing folk music and the musique concrčte; the complex soundscapes suck you in and the easy folk songs serve as a break. And if some people find electric music cold and inhuman, then this is the complete opposite: John sounds warm and caring throughout the album and it is evident that not only has much work gone into the composition of melodies and rhythms on this album, but each and every sound here serves a thought out purpose.