Annelies Monseré – Mares LP
Horn of Plenty casts its gaze into the thriving contemporary Belgian underground with Annelies Monseré’s Mares, a remarkable body of experimental compositions that taps the deep well of raw, emotive expression rumbling below numerous traditions of European folk music.
As a member of Ghent’s experimental music scene, over the past two decades Annelies Monseré has slowly refined a singular approach to musicality, moving from the sparse, instrumental piano works from that defined her early career, toward increasingly complex arrangements of instrumentation that offer a central place to her own voice, issued by noteworthy imprints such as Morc Tapes, Stroom, and three:four. Like her work within the widely celebrated ensemble, Luster, as well as Distels, her duo with Steve Marreyt, Monseré’s solo efforts establish a strikingly beautiful and remarkably unique territory that elegantly balances between rigorous experimentalism, minimalism, drone, and folk.
Recorded between 2016 and 2022, Mares is arguably best approached through the song that marked its inception and conclusion, a rendition of Cyril Tawney’s Sally Free & Easy. Written in 1958 and popularised by Pentangle during the early 1970s, it has been approached by so many artists – Davy Graham, Trees, Tony Caro & John, Marianne Faithfull, Flying Saucer Attack, etc. – that it’s become a “standard” within the folk scenes of the last half century or so. Initially drawn to the melodic qualities of the tune, Monseré became fascinated with the lyrical content, which she points out are “ethically problematic: a sailor ‘slutshaming’ a woman because she left him.. blaming her for his (planned) suicide”. Refined from paired down beginnings over a six year period, a droning, feminist dirge slowly emerged from her hands, incorporating male backing vocals and harmonium as brooding counterpoint to her voice, that entirely recasts the song into a new and radically prescient form.
It is this sense of contrast – the elemental humanity and tension that runs below countless traditions of folk, reconceptualized within the forward thinking temperaments of contemporary experimental music – that defines Mares as such a distinct piece of work. A departure from her previous solo efforts, being the first to leave behind her main instruments, the guitar and piano, the album was conceived by Monseré as something akin to timbral painting; “adding similar layers upon each other with (slightly) different hues”. Taking the image of the sea and the ethical tensions within Sally Free & Easy as a conceptual departure point – weaving these themes like a thread through the record – amongst complex sets of harmonic relationships and varied durational structures that unfold within the remaining seven compositions, she intertwined her own childhood memories of the sea with interrogations of how “these memories are often arbitrarily fixed and tainted by the present, and more metaphorical (even biblical) connotations of the sea, hinting at toxic human relationships and intoxication in its multiple senses.”
Appearing with the immediacy and emotiveness of folk music, imbued with sense of adventure of experimentalism and bred with the restraint and elegance of minimalism, Mares’ is a deep body of sonority that draws upon the fundamental human need to express and commune through sound, projecting this ancient need into forward-thinking forms without sacrificing its roots. Profoundly beautiful, elegant, and poetic, these eight tracks offer immersion into the singular creative voice of one of the most unique artists currently working in the Belgian scene.