Court Music From The Planet Of Love
As promised by its title, the debut album from Melbourne’s Prudence Rees-Lee is a baroque psychedelic fantasia. It’s also remarkably intimate, right down to those half-whispered vocal idiosyncrasies, writes ANTHONY CAREW.
Let’s begin at the end: curious parties too busy to bother streaming the whole damn Prudence Rees-Lee LP could just go to its last – and standout – song, ‘Morning.’ A glorious, glowing, growing gathering of slow-fade soft-rock moves, the tune commences with Rees-Lee at her most love-song sincere (“I like to wake up next to you/It’s my favourite thing to do”) before staging an essential call-and-response between Lehmann B. Smith’s acid-folk slide guitar and warm-hearted, often-wordless wails from an arm-in-arm chorus that includes Laura Jean.
Of course, part of ‘Morning’’s wonder is in the fact that it comes not as first taste but last call; the end point of a record that summons the tropes of the psychedelic opus, thus making it the reached destination of an ‘audio journey’. There’s a theatricality to its finality: this finale a last bow before the curtain, a tune bidding adieu to the audience in a stagey fashion so rare in indie rock that Smashing Pumpkins’ double-album epilogue ‘Farewell and Goodnight’ is a bona fide spiritual antecedent. Yet its tender grandeur feels entirely earned: ‘Morning’ is the culmination to a record that opens with a triptych, stops for a traditional, and borrows a harpsichord from an Early Music consort. Skipping straight to it (as, truth be told, I often do) is not entirely akin to reading the last page of a book first; it’s more like seeing a sunrise having just got out of bed, rather than having stayed up all night.
Rees-Lee plays the harpsichord across Court Music From the Planet of Love, an album whose title speaks of its baroque psychedelic fantasia, in which the songwriter’s conservatory training comes draped in cosmic, retro-mystic airs. The harpsichord becomes symbolic of this, its pluckings stirring the spectre of classical composers (Bach, Scarlatti), classic pop bands (The Zombies, The Left Banke) and classy ‘lost’ psych-folk reissues (Sunflower, Jade). The album’s one-sheet cites the age-of-Aquarius synaesthesia of Linda Perhacs and that patron saint of all girls-with-tiny-voices-whispering-over-grand-orchestrations, Jane Birkin, but harkening too much to the historical overlooks more apt comparisons to Isobel Campbell’s turn-of-the-millennium LPs as The Gentle Waves. Or, moreso, to Rees-Lee’s local contemporaries Melodie Nelson and Jessica Says.
“Rees-Lee is the hero of the recordings, but that contrasts with the bashful persona she plays up.”
Like Jessica Says, Rees-Lee isn’t some naïf waif plonked in front of an orchestra, but the orchestra unto herself. The credit given to the album’s many known names – producer Simon Grounds (still best regarded for those classic early Underground Lovers records); percussionist Cinta Masters (far from the screechery of Useless Children); bassist Shags Chamberlain (as omnipresent a Melbourne-music-scene player, these days, as Mikey Young is an engineer); even cover photographer Darren Sylvester – shouldn’t confuse the fact she’s the one playing cello, piano, harpsichord and a vintage Korg, building up the grandeur with her own hands.
Rees-Lee is the hero of the recordings, but that contrasts with the bashful persona she plays up: the LP’s chaste lyrics filled with images from storybook gardens (butterflies and dragonflies; verdant leaves and velvety petals; girls as budding flowers, ready to blossom), her half-whispered delivery mic’d so closely you hear her voice’s every tiny idiosyncrasy. Notably, Rees-Lee sings with a slight lisp, which, in the psychedelic context, makes for fewer associations with Grimes and more with Pearls Before Swine’s Tom Rapp (or maybe Richard Carpenter, if The Carpenters always sounded like ‘Crescent Noon’).
This juxtaposition between voice and music means that even at its most dramatic (the drum rolls resounding at the close of ‘The Way’) or cosmic (the mod-synth/flute incidentalism, thereafter, on ‘Bridges’), Court Music manages to retain a personal, intimate mood. In keeping with the LP’s theatrical staging, it’s like a grand production that still feels like a one-woman-show. And that’s never so true as in ‘Morning,’ that rousing, cresting, whole-cast closing number that is, nevertheless, a devotional whispered to the person on the next pillow over.