By Christopher Nosnibor
Andria Degens is an English singer-songwriter, a self-taught multi-instrumentalist who’s been recording under the Pantaleimon moniker (meaning ‘all merciful’, and inspired by Phillip Pullman’s His Dark Materials Trilogy) since her twenties. Although her early career saw her feature on the Dirty Three album Horse Stories, and the fact The Butterfly Ate The Pearl is her fifth album as Pantaleimon, Degens has thus far avoided mainstream critical attention. On the evidence here, this is nothing short of criminal. Apart from possessing a wonderful voice, she also demonstrates a keen ear for subtle yet layered arrangements, and a knack for compositions that are, at times, incredibly moving.
The lilting vocal melody, coupled with the gentle swell of soft, subtle strings at the beginning of ‘Ember’ is reminiscent of ‘She Moved Through the Fair,’ a traditional Celtic folk song that’s been performed by everyone from Van Morrison to Boyzone via All About Eve, Fairport Convention and Sinead O’Connor. But it soon grows, blossoming into a rich electric folk-rock song, buttoned down by a strolling bassline and meandering fiddle. But Andria’s voice remains the focus and focal point of the dreamy number that sets the tone and pace for an album that’s delicate yet solid.
The title track is a clear standout: haunting, evocative, musically and emotionally deep – at once impenetrable and resonant, Degens’ voice drifting in a sonic haze, while the sparse and brooding ‘E Eagle Turning’ succeeds in captivating the listener in spellbound silence for the entirety of its six-minute plus duration.
There are tracks which could readily be described as straightforward folk-orientated singer-songwriter fare, although there’s often a slight twist, as on the slightly psychedelia-tinged ‘Elevation of a Dream’ that calls to mind the spirit, if not necessarily the sound, of Syd Barrett. ‘If I (Was)’ has a vintage quality, accentuated by its almost muffled production that stands out in the context of the crisp, clinical production values of so many contemporary albums mass produced. Production-line music this most certainly is not.
Herein lies the real appeal of The Butterfly Ate The Pearl: it doesn’t sound ‘of its time’; it doesn’t sound overtly vintage or retro either, but is more out of time, or, indeed, timeless.
The Butterfly Ate The Pearl is released by Grass Girl Music