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Anchor 16

Charm of Finches

Thursday 11th April, 2024  Camelot Lounge, Marrickville

Mabel and Ivy Windred-Wornes are an Australian sister duo who act as the lyricists, instrumentalists and arrangers for Charm of Finches. Their material centres around contemporary chamber folk music inspired by matters of love, grief and nature. Their first album was released in 2016, but on the evening of Thursday the 11th of April at The Camelot Lounge in Marrickville, they performed a show to mark the official launch of their fourth recording, Marlinchen in the Snow.

If I’m being honest, I’d not seen Charm of Finches perform prior to this event. I’m also not a fan of folk. Or so I thought. The only reason I decided to attend was because I discovered that as very young girls, these sisters would busk whilst playing songs by First Aid Kit. This Swedish folk act is a sister duo as well. I’d never seen them perform live either. Until I had. Nor was I a fan of folk then. Or so I thought. 

Secondly, I will never decline an invitation to a live performance upon sound advisement by another lover of music. Quite simply because the educational experience has the potential to enrich and enlighten your life. Observing Charm of Finches deliver their personal artistry live taught me, as did the aforementioned band all those years ago, that I am a fan of folk. This kind of folk. Among some few still to this day, the mere mention of folk music invariably invokes tired archival ‘Blowin’ in the Wind’ vibes. Not so is the case with Charm of Finches. After years of dedication to their craft, Mabel and Ivy have both modernised and individualised their chosen genre to a point of maturation that has brought fresh folk to the fore. Those present at this show will attest to witnessing an undisputable display of creative skill. 

Actual musicianship aside, the overall complexity to their sound was elevated by a strong stage presence, and exceptional arrangements throughout which could not be overstated.  Their voices, the truest of all instruments upon the stage, did rather luxuriously carry the serene set that much further. Their angelic voices extended beyond reflective lyrics, and landed together with the greatest precision and expert ease, when hanging for just long enough aside the peaks and valleys of heavenly harmonies. Digital is suitable. Vinyl is superb. Live is supreme. If I hadn’t seen Charm of Finches up close and personal, I could not have fully appreciated the textural distinction between Mabel and Ivy’s rich tones as presented in their respective vocal ranges. Each provided her own unique layer to further nurture the lush lyrical landscape.

Exuding such undeniable warmth of character, poised and prepared, the sisters took to the stage. The playful and witty exchanges between the two put the crowd at ease in an instant. Mabel and Ivy engaged with their audience with fun and flair. The contagious rapport was locked in for the rest of the night and made the transition into the first song of the evening terribly smooth, and we just knew a very tasteful show would soon unfold. 

Still in the settling in stage, Ivy unexpectedly initiated a chat about relationship advice, and amusingly informed us to expect just that in the form of the first song off the new album, ‘Clean Cut’.  Everything about this track is clean cut. Decisive and direct in both musical arrangement and lyrical commentary. Observing these two worlds collide live was illuminating. The initial air of whimsy to this composition appeared intentionally strategic, allowing the prominent nagging emphasis which punctuates the song, to breathe a little rather than ultimately choke by over saturation. What I appreciated before me live was perfectly appointed balance in the song’s entire structure. In the absence of purposeless noise, the declarative statement of empowerment was conveyed with eloquence, surety and clarity, “… Under the simple sky, above my tangled mind… I’ll finally wake up, making my mind up...” Therefore, at least in this context, I felt the absence of a full band served particularly well.

The Camelot Lounge provides an artist a smaller space in which to share their art. I’ve always thought of such a venue as far more intimidating. There’s absolutely nowhere to hide. I tried. The intimacy created by the proximity between stage and audience is acutely heightened. At times, throughout the performance you could almost hear a pin drop. Such silence is deafening. Inescapable. Scary stuff, right? But no fear here, professionalism did prevail as Mabel and Ivy bravely dove straight back into a performer’s abyss yet again. Just like that, we were taken on a narrative journey which spoke to the restlessness within, ‘Leave It All Behind’ is a contemplative composition, which aptly mirrored their delicate profile and the quiet peacefulness of the space in which we were seated, “… And it seems I’ve chosen a wanderer’s life… traipsing the world as you sleep at night…”, alluding to that which at times renders one a reluctant roamer. However, on this night there was absolutely nowhere to roam.  Or run. It takes a great deal of testimonial talent to silence an audience. To command such stillness. To have an entire room of random people convinced that they really, really want to hear what you have to say. Such skill is rare. Intoxicating. Such is the skill of Charm of Finches.

Soon to follow, we would see Mabel and Ivy together undertake from start to finish, the track ‘Atlantis’. This is a beautifully brooding piece, giving rise to both interpretation and contemplativeness, “… breathing, heaving, heavy on your chest, tightness clenching, searching for rest…” Intelligent music was the first thing that came to mind. Therin lies the dynamism and fluidity of music, it can more often than not make you move to the groove for sure, but depth will always make you think. How can that ever not feel good? The presence of thought-provoking concepts is deep entrenched in the music of Charm of Finches, but that by which I am even more inspired, is the style in which Mabel and Ivy manage to sustain the epitome of elegance on stage right beside such critical content. Case in point, Mabel and Ivy’s execution of this song in particular was pure as snow, yet robust all at once. By fiercely embracing a seductive vocal projection at the very heart of the harmony, they in effect captured the allurement that emerged from the sensitive lyrics with irrefutable poignancy.  When you make overwhelming discontent sound so breath-takingly touching, it really becomes more a contention of artistic sensibility above all else.

Right about midway through the set, we were treated to ‘On My Own’, which on its own would have been aplenty appealing... But to have had it introduced by Ivy as “an uplifting song about dying”, suddenly made it a whole lot more appealing for me. Keys featured predominately, again at the seamless hands of Ivy, adding an element of strength to the song as a nicely measured statement. Melodically this track may at first appear as sweet and simple. Listen closely though, and you too will discover the actual message as to the contrary, “… But all the weapons in the armoury couldn’t win this awful fight... against this worrying rampant mind of mine…” A stark sense of despairing inner struggle and the depth of utter isolation when one feels that one’s own mind cannot, cannot be stilled by any means. Not so sweet and simple. 

Such challenging complex commentary prove a commonality throughout. Charm of Finches expressly manage such intimate conversations with their audience supremely well, never more so than when exhibiting impeccable levels of vocal harmony, as was abundantly exampled during the top notes of this very song. Makes for better content consumption when pivotal messages are relayed this clearly and charmingly. 

The track ‘Human’ wouldn’t ordinarily scream ‘sing-a-long song’, save for the strength of the melody, given the profundity of the narrative, “…regret is the poison to my mind… that sinking feeling that I’ve stepped the wrong path…anger then sadness and a heavy heavy heart… it’s not my job to teach you how to be a human…” An admission of bitterness, loss, grief and emptiness comprise the very soul of this song. An impossibly painful and costly lesson has evidently taken place, the repercussive burden which ensues plays out melancholily yet entrancingly in this transfixing song.

Ivy comfortably assumed her position on lead vocals, closely followed by Mabel masterfully handling self-taught acoustic guitar, and the truly infectious refrain heavily beckoned despite the weight and nature of the surrounding narrative. Such is the power of music. Good music.  Skilful harmonies to which we’d come to expect by this stage of the performance did not disappoint. Ivy literally hushed this song to sleep, cradling it to a close gently in barely a whisper. Soothing yet commanding. Chills.

Our senses soon re-awakened as we were transported to a freezing winter in snow covered Canada, the backdrop of the time and place of Marlinchen in the Snow’s recording. As I pondered that which I believed to be the symbolism behind the album’s title as a disturbing Brother’s Grimm tale, I’d become just a tad ghoulishly intrigued. A chance of being right served to only further fuel the curiosity within the vortex of my inner literary spirit. I mean, artistic free license and subjectiveness aside, how does one derive inspiration to express music by exploring mature fairy tale material steeped in child abuse, murder and cannibalism? If you need a minute to step away from your screen right now, no judgement, we’re cool.

Well upon sharing the actual premise for penning this enigmatic title song, Mabel did indeed confirm my assumption. She then good-humouredly divulged that the sisters were actually told this tale at age seven. Hmmm… wait. What? Who told you this tale Mabel, who? Then, it got a whole lot more interesting when Mabel decided to further school us, in the spirit of contextual purposes I presumed, by providing an additional brief summary of said tale. Do not drive or handle heavy machinery soon after reading the following passage. As translated, the little girl Marlinchen buried her stepbrother’s bones beneath a juniper tree in the snow. From this location, a phoenix later did appear having assumed the voice of the dead boy, who revealed he’d been killed by her mother. I’m not lying. And that’s not even the whole twisted thing, Google it. You may recall earlier on when I equated attending a live performance as a potential educational experience… Well, you know, I rest my case.

Now it begs the question as to why one must witness this song performed live for all it denotes. I’ll tell you why, because when Charm of Finches cleverly cited fictitious Marlinchen’s burdensome task hauntingly in verse, “…Where will I lay my sweet brother’s bones…?”, they somehow encapsulated an entire experience, and managed to make dark sound eerily exquisite. That’s why. I would describe the tone of this tune as calm, chaotic conflict. A restless quest to seek impossible answers to unearthly questions.

Way down the set list, worlds away from all things macabre, we literally surrendered to ‘Gravity’, and at no more opportune a time for us to have welcomed this track from the last album, Wonderful Oblivion. Our taletelling Mabel took the lead on both guitar and vocals,  before Ivy quickly jumped in on additional vocals and keys. This track could easily have been loosely categorised as relaxed-pop, that is before the stunning folk chorus kicked in, at which point we were reminded of the lane in which these two sisters truly belong. In its entirety, a composed and controlled performance piece. The build up to the summit of the song did not go unacknowledged, much like the means by which it was just as seamlessly stripped back with equal finesse, to only then have us completely released from gravity. We floated away whilst still seated and tranquilly awaited to gravitate to the next song. 

Too soon for my liking, the performance was nearing its end. Mabel expressed sincere gratitude for our support of the new album, just before Ivy’s whimsical introduction to the last song of the set as a “lullaby about death”. She got my attention. Ivy’s light-hearted description perfectly mirrored the adorable quirkiness these two sisters embodied. Although in true entertaining form, before proceeding we were treated to a couple of delicious random facts. Firstly, their favourite programme is ‘Six Feet Under’. Hmm. Secondly, dad happens to be an undertaker. Hmmmm… Major light bulb moment at Table One. Listen, I’m no Nancy Drew, but I think I know who told Mabel the tale.

A concerted effort to drown out all investigative noise in my head, and to instead transition toward the safe and familiar warm embrace of the more escapist ‘Wonderful Oblivion’ harmonies, was definitely the right choice. “… Fading into the light…’ such a fitting note upon which to end the night.

At its core an amalgam of intricacy is how I would best describe the music of Charm of Finches. Far from one dimensional, Mabel and Ivy are best at channelling a fresh indie-folk sound. Also known to incorporate hints of pure chilled pop along the way for good measure, but almost always driven by considered folk forward hooks cast in sound tunefulness. If a hook is the capstone of a well-crafted song, then it’s no wonder the new material has been so well received.

A definite aptitude for insightful music was the solid takeaway from a polished performance by Charm of Finches. And no… It’s not my job to teach you how to be a fan… But perhaps upon my sound advisement as a fellow lover of music alone, when your mobile pings and that great mate at the other end invites you to their next show, especially if his name sounds like Adrian, just text right back “Hell yeah… Would be charmed, and hit send.

Mary Di Matteo

photos by Kim Madgwick


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