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Album Review

The second collaborative effort between Masaki Batoh and Helena Espvall finds the two musicians' union on even stronger footing than before; while their debut was enjoyable, there's a sense of them not simply wanting to rest on their laurels for the sheer novelty of their first collaboration. Beginning with a rollicking version of the medieval song "Saltarello," here titled "Little Blue Dragon" and underscored with a sped-up delivery (in comparison to the slightly more familiar Dead Can Dance version), Overloaded Ark mixes original compositions from the two plus a number of reinterpretations. While elements of their work in Ghost and Espers and elsewhere again inevitably come to mind, what's most noticeable about Batoh and Espvall's joint work is that nothing on the album sounds like simply one or the other band, instead suggesting new explorations for both as well as the three other musicians on the album, all Japanese performers and associates of Batoh (Junzo Tateiwa in particular deserves note for his strong percussion work underpinning the songs). Moments like the sudden cutaway to moody, steady bass for a few seconds in the title track and the cello-led elegance and dissonance of "Over the Luminous Land" exist very much in their own sphere. Meanwhile, the audibly discernible tradeoffs between Espvall's string performances and Batoh's various approaches on guitar, electronics, and other instruments — solos and shades that always seek to drive each song forward — provide a window into the heights of their even more powerful live work together and, as of 2009, in Ghost itself. Hearing Batoh's delicate guitar on "Until Tomorrow" carefully matched and shaded by Espvall's cello and then her voice, all as an introduction to the album's most detailed, exploratory song, is simply a breathtaking moment, full stop.


Born: Philadelphia, PA

Genre: Singer/Songwriter

Years Active: '00s

Helena Espvall is a cello player who is comfortable in indie rock and improvised music circles. She was born and raised in Sweden, playing guitar and cello in rock bands and a silent movie orchestra. Moving to the U.S. and settling in Philadelphia in 2000, Espvall further explored Arabic music, performed with the Amnesiac Music & Dance Ensemble, and joined the contemporary psychedelic-folk group Espers, recording the CDs Weed Tree and II with them. Her penchant for playing free jazz has resulted...
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Overloaded Ark, Helena Espvall
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