Josephine Foster

Josephine Foster
A Wolf In Sheep’s Clothing
Locust CD

by Marcus Boon

Josephine Foster’s quiet, eccentric, folky masterpiece of last year, Hazel Eyes I Will Lead You, set her up nicely for inclusion in the current pantheon of indie-rock/nu-folk heroes and heroines. Anyone expecting a polite, obliging radio-ready follow-up from A Wolf In Sheep’s Clothing is likely to be surprised by this set of seven nineteenth century German art songs, words by Goethe and others, music by Brahms, Schubert and Schumann, sung in German by Foster over a mixture of acoustic and squalling, dissonant electric guitars.

A Wolf in Sheep’s Clothing is the kind of record that one hesitates to say anything about, after only a week of listening to it – and this itself is of course an achievement. These are beautiful songs, sung beautifully, with beautiful accompaniment. But then there’s the gothic grandiosity of the songs, the doomy black and white cover, the electric arrangements that verge on a parody of prog rock noodling, the big prog concept (19th C art song meets free folk), not to mention Foster’s famously wayward reverb-soaked vocal intensity. Yet, it all works, gloriously so. Foster’s fabulous earnestness is always leavened by an element of self-parody, an over-the-topness which embraces and simultaneously laughs at the cheesiness of the idea of Sonic Youth-Meets-Brahms! while at the same time developing out of that conceptual kitsch something genuinely moving and intense.

This is not a difficult record to listen to, but I am unsettled and awed by the way in which Foster draws us deeper, track by track, into her own particular kind of darkness. This reaches its heaviest, blackest shade on track six’s 11’ 45” skronk meets Minnie Ripperton epic rendition of Schumann and Eichendorff’s “Auf einer Burg”. Just when you think you can’t take it any more, the noise dissipates, leaving us with three minutes of acoustic bitter-sweetness in “Nähe des Geliebten”.

Perhaps Foster is the “wolf in sheep’s clothing” here – except of course that Foster knows that under the sheep’s clothing, the wolf outfit remains merely another disguise. Like so many of the greatest pop talents of the last 50 years, Foster plays in a hall of mirrors, not because she enjoys playing games, but because out of this unlikely set of refracted surfaces, something new and true emerges.

Originally published in The Wire, 2006.

Speak Your Mind