You always have to wonder what goes through a successful artist’s head when they suddenly decide pack up their lives and careers and disappear from the public eye. Sometimes it works out well, as with French primitivist painter Paul Gauguin, whose relocation to Tahiti allowed him to produce the works he is most famous for today. Other times, it merely signals the end of the era, as with John Hughes’s surreptitious disappearance from the filmmaking enterprise once the 90s rolled around. Finally, there are the times when it’s just an excuse for a simple change of pace.
Mike Lindsay’s move to Iceland probably falls under the latter category. Formerly known as the founding member of British experimental folk band Tunng, in 2010, Lindsay took it upon himself to rekindle a love affair first begun with the Nordic nation four years earlier. What has resulted is Cheek Mountain Thief, a solo project produced in collaboration with Icelandic musicians, and an eponymous debut album.
Considered alongside its description as a homage to Iceland, the album does exactly what you would expect. Lindsay has continued on in the experimental folk genre, but where Tunng leans heavily on the experimental side with obvious electronic influences, CMF is very much folk first. Happy songs are plucky and simple (“Wake Him”) while sad ones are hazy and languid (“Attack”). The whole album is extremely rustic and grassroots, relying heavily on rhythmic acoustic strumming patterns and resonating bass drum backbones (“Cheek Mountain”). There is even a distinct sense of a rural labour environment, with Lindsay having included a sort of workman like chant in “Cheek Mountain” that recalls that of Snow White’s seven dwarves.
And yet, despite the fact that the album is not hard to listen to, there is something inherently frustrating about it all. It’s almost as if Lindsay has achieved the simplicity he was striving for all too well — in bringing himself both physically and mentally back to basics, Lindsay has stripped too far and the result is too thin. At times, I wished there was something more substantial — more hard-hitting or concrete — in the music for me to grab onto. That being said, Cheek Mountain Thief starts and finishes well. And as far as modern music is concerned, it is the perfect antidote — as authentic and simplistic as the nature that inspired it.
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