At times during the drowsy summer we find ourselves in, an uncanny sense of normalcy seems to cover Berlin, with so much outwardly reverting to “business as usual”. But then we are jolted back to our new reality of uncertainty, where fear for the future battles with our desire to escape into the untroubled haven of yesterday.
Following on from their majestic Slow Creature EP released in March, Perlee perfectly encapsulate such conflicted feelings with their gorgeous follow-up Half Seen Figure. Consisting of old demos made in Ireland which have been dusted down and remixed during lockdown in Berlin, the duo fuse a sense of familiarity with subtle additions to their sonic palette: three songs that flit gracefully between unease, restfulness and yearning, providing sinuous, gauzy “Kopfkino” for the world outside.
Starting with an ominous crackle and a serpentine, Elliott Smith-like guitar figure, first song Sticky Blood uncoils like a snake under a blood red sky, threaded through with Saramai Leech imploring you to “shed your skin, let the light in.” It‘s brooding, restless and tantalising; her voice a hushed, dancing shadow invoking you to unburden yourself amidst striking imagery of scalded hearts and sticky blood thickened and set into wax.
Recent single Slow Your Eyes comes into focus next, effortlessly flipping the mood to one of sun-kissed languor, with Cormac O’Keeffe’s chiming guitar heralding a simple, two-chord progression which melds with his whispered vocals and lush keyboards to suggest My Bloody Valentine playing Dear Prudence by the Beatles. The harmonic simplicity is perfectly accompanied by his soothing and reinforcing words: “you are a lens you can let the sun rise”, a gentle entreaty to turn off your phones and engage with the present.
This delicious sliver of serenity then dissolves into an aching portrait of yearning with Leech returning to lead vocal duties for the arrestingly beautiful closer Bird and the Statue. Ushered in by the stentorian tones of Ronnie Drew from The Dubliners reading a snippet of Oscar Wilde’s Happy Prince, this gentle lullaby pirouettes on a graceful piano figure, with the bird pleading to the statue to “give me the ground to fall at your feet, give me the words you want me to speak.“ The combination of the Wilde-inspired narrative, Leech’s heartfelt vocal delivery, and O’Keeffe’s sighing guitar accompaniment conjures a widescreen picture of impossible love and longing, once again displaying the duo’s knack for eliciting intense emotions with tastefully minimal instrumentation.
While so much of today’s music comes across as either cloyingly optimistic or contrivedly morose, Perlee continue to entrance with their masterly use of textures and striking lyrical imagery, accessing shades of emotion that manage to paint a full picture of the human experience. I had first seen the band enchant a reverent audience at the Fitzcarraldo Film Bar in Friedrichshain in January, their music providing intoxicatingly ethereal diversion from the howling winter outside. Half Seen Figure, which sweeps us seamlessly through feelings of unease, effervescent lightness, and elegant yearning in just over ten minutes, proves that Perlee are a band for all seasons.
Cover Image by Sofia Kent