Though still a young label, Devendra Banhart’s Gnomonsong imprint has already proven itself as a center of artistic strength and vibrancy. From early releases by Jana Hunter and Feathers to the up-and-coming hypemakers Papercuts, Gnomonsong, even with only a handful of releases to its name, has displayed a pretty solid and consistent output in its short existence. And Rio en Medio’s The Bride of Dynamite, the latest release from the fledgling label, is every bit as strange and wonderful as the hand-picked goodies that came before.
Rio en Medio, better known to her friends as Danielle Stech-Homsy, is not so much of the freak-folk fabric as Banhart or Feathers as she is a haunting and minimal folk artist channeling the baroque folk of Fairport Convention or the Incredible String Band. Her closest contemporary would be Espers, whose own sound, often lumped in with `freak-folk,’ contains elements of medieval songwriting as well as psychedelic ’60s folk. Stech-Homsy’s voice is a soothing and distant curiosity, at once beautiful and inviting yet eerie and ghostly as well. Her arrangements are sparse and skeletal for the most part, though a cast of guests including Tim Fite, CocoRosie’s Sierra Casady, Vetiver’s Andy Cabic and Thom Monahan lend their aid to this gorgeous effort.
Bride of Dynamite begins mysteriously and beautifully with the swirling effects and gentle plucking of “You Can Stand,” a trippy, simple track that’s as much Syd Barrett as it is Sandy Denny. “Heaven is High” is exotic and alluring, with repetitive fingerpicking and a stunning vocal performance on the part of Stech-Homsy. “Everyone is Someone’s” is a true standout, one of the most obviously mystical and medieval inspired songs. It’s haunting and spectral, samples of voices weaving in and out of the handclaps and simple guitar strums. It’s a song best heard by candlelight, if only for the added spook factor and atmospheric enhancement.
More odd effects pop up in “Kill the Messenger,” another outstanding example of the strength of Rio en Medio’s simple, yet captivating songwriting. The weirdest track on Bride is without question “Friday,” which builds up strange samples and percussion in a sideways sound collage that’s unlike any other track on the album. In fact, it seems a little cluttered, especially with a song like “I See the Star” right behind it. With only minimal accompaniment, Rio en Medio crafts a graceful and breathtaking style of folk that shines magnificently on its own.
Vashti Bunyan – Lookaftering
Espers – II
Pentangle – Sweet Child
Jeff Terich is the founder and editor of Treble. He's been writing about music for 20 years and has been published at American Songwriter, Bandcamp Daily, Reverb, Spin, Stereogum, uDiscoverMusic, VinylMePlease and some others that he's forgetting right now. He's still not tired of it.