Weirdness can be magnetic. The harder it is to identify what is attractive, the stronger the attraction. Not always, but sometimes. There are songs that create tangible mysteries as they withhold them, as they seal them off from excavation. This sort of thing can be approached in two different ways. The first moves through obscurity, through a hypertrophy of difficult ideas and bracing sounds, exerting some sort of pressure against harmony. It is an urbane weirdness, a claim to highbrow aestheticism, often entwined with some teleological concept of music—music as possessing a progressive history of which the particular work is a sort of momentary culmination.
The other path, far less didactic, runs through the kaleidoscope, operates by the fragmenting of simplicity and childlike wonder. It is a meandering path that stops and starts, picks up at odd angles, cause for smiles, perplexity and, to some, the swift shuttering of ears. Tickley Feather, Philadelphia’s Annie Sachs, is most definitely parading weirdness of this variety. She seems quite content to cast bizarre little mesmeric spells that seem to disappear just as they have begun to take shape.
While this causes some of the individual tracks from her debut—released by Animal Collective’s Paw Tracks label—to leave markedly dilute impressions, stepping into the album as a whole is a determinedly heady experience. Culled from home recordings made in the past four years, it is defined by an attentive minimalism sculpted from rudimentary but resonant instrumentation. The center of attention is without doubt Sachs’ vocals. Think lost little girl processed through outer space. “Keyboards is Drunk,” the album’s second longest track at three minutes and ten seconds, finds Sachs swallowed up in reverb, solely accompanied by a chiming keyboard figure. It ends up something between lullaby and elegy, poignant youthful melancholy pressed into the sorrow of actual loss. Such contradictions form the center of Tickley Feather‘s magic.
At its most engaging, Annie Sachs’ music fixes the constant drift of an eccentric creative consciousness. It often feels that, with startlingly simple means, she is going in myriad directions with a song all at once. “Le Daylight” begins with time-warped whimsy reminiscent of Air’s “Playground Love,” but its placid arrangement is twisted by Sachs’ shrill vocals, which are overlapped and processed to the point of becoming unnervingly indecipherable. The opposite is often true as well. The weirdness, otherness, of her music is at times tempered by the warmness of her voice, which even at its most discordant communicates—as well as a taste for bright, starry cacophony—a comfort with the inherent imperfection of any creative endeavor.
By the end of the record, Annie Sachs seems an artist totally in control of her materials, sure of what she wants to do and able to accomplish it. What in the beginning appeared as the untraceable musical wanderings of a mad woman, in the end is evidently in possession of its own internal order. Like Will Oldham’s benevolent, wild-eyed Kurt puts it in Old Joy, you just have to get above the timberline to see it.