by Patrick Lee October 13, 2009
It's hard to imagine better traveling music than the eight songs on Elin Palmer's new album, Postcard. While the expansive, orchestral tracks would do wonders for even a short drive to Fort Collins, the album's folk frontiers are better suited for riding the rough seas to Norway on a dragon ship. Grand without excess and full with a possibility of new places—like Palmer's native Sweden— the music often stands in stark contrast to the lyrics, which are crystals of a much darker nature. It's strange to hear Palmer sing lines like "This moment is fading fast" and "I don't feel like I will die in this cold, dark house" over music made for exploring forests and making paper airplanes, but that's the eccentric way the former Munly & The Lee Lewis Harlots contributor unravels it.
Live, Palmer saws away on a Nyckelharpa, a rare and old Swedish instrument that looks like a cross between an abacus and an elf's woodworking tools—and it's the instrument's intense, optimistic bowing that grounds Postcard's symphonic pop arrangements. This musical oddity and other clever choices in instrumentation make for brief but transfixing guest appearances—notably the low pianos on "Paint," the 8-bit bleeps that sparkle on top of "House," and the ropes of accordion that join verse to chorus on "Time."
Postcard captures the whale chasing, sea shanty sound bands like The Decemberists bring to the table, but where Colin Meloy needs 45 Scrabble-worthy words per verse, Palmer opts for simple eight or 10-word phrases that get great mileage through her warm, understated voice. Palmer steers clear of the prog-rock bash-fests or jammy eight-minute codas typical of waltzy neo-folk, and the resulting work is brief, modest, and very successful—an audio postcard from cold but green foreign lands. Grade: A