Pentapolar Birds’ Experimental Folk Album ‘Birds of Ghosts’ Falls Short

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Trinidad Carrillo is an established visual artist originally from Cusco, Perú who has spent most of her adult life studying photography in Sweden. As a photographer, installation artist, and publisher, her work is well-crafted and immaculately presented. She portrays drab and off-putting scenes reminiscent of Roy Andersson’s dystopia in Songs from the Second Floor, a film made by a Swede and inspired by the poetry of Peruvian Cesar Vallejo. Although this creates a strange parallel, Trinidad’s work feels askew, too vague and reliant on solipsism and subjective interpretation to justify itself.

Having a penchant for fantasy, science fiction, and folklore, one could see how she might find her main medium (photography) limited for storytelling. After four years in the making comes Pentapolar Birds’ debut album, Birds of Ghosts via the eclectic and experimental Buh RecordsIt’s a collection of nine experimental folk songs written by Trinidad and recorded and electronically arranged by Mappe Persson.

Pooling influences ranging from freak folk to nu jazz, Birds of Ghosts dovetails stylistically with Trinidad’s highly conceptual visual work, not only in that it’s similarly based on fantasy and fiction, but also in that it’s similar to other people’s work. Fine-tuning is a double-edged sword that on the one hand allows the perfectionist to polish their creation until it is seemingly perfect, but on the other could cause it to sound dated and conceptually too on the nose. The band’s name comes from a somewhat self-imposed or self-diagnosed personality type, suggesting that the artist and her cohort are emotionally multifaceted. Although this could imply variety and a way to justify all kinds of styles coexisting within the album, many tracks are similar in structure and formula.

“Summer,” the album’s opening track, is a lullaby-turned-anthem that showcases Trinidad’s vocal range, evoking Joanna Newsom’s expressive style, but reaching more ecstatic peaks. An almost silent overture is then submerged into a gruesome, despair-filled battle between her processed vocals and a grand piano. At six minutes and seven seconds, the track is a challenging listen. Following “Summer” is “Ode to TV,” an ambitious ballad with sampled beats and layers of harmonies and melodies that struggle to stay in time. A simple approach would have made this track more enjoyable.

The album’s high points are the march-like, drum-driven tracks, such as the unfortunately named “Milky,” which strives for anaphora, but only truly succeeds through the cohesion of the pointillistic organ and drumming. “Skin of Clay” could be the highlight of the album, but, yet again, we find Trinidad relying on her desperate moan to climax the track, which at this point has been overused. In “Truest Lie,” we hear how the polarity of the album has been established and will not change. A pensive, tired Trinidad sings silently and works her way back into the ecstatic moan. Fortunately, we have “Ghosts and Monsters,” a track that actually–in an act of ironic rebelliousness–remains calm and measured.

Birds of Ghosts has moments where Trinidad’s talent can be appreciated, mainly as a singer. Her stories are quirky and weird, but not much else. We can applaud her ability to surround herself with more talented musicians, but even they couldn’t carry her all the way through. If we put things into perspective, this is a debut that stands out, but Trinidad falls short by trying to evoke artists like Björk.

To borrow from film critic Mick LaSalle’s opinion of Paul Thomas Anderson’s work, there should be no need to pretend Birds of Ghosts is a masterpiece just because Trinidad sincerely tried to make it one. The ambitious album ends up being simplistic in songwriting and overdone in concept.