I had randomly selected Headspace from a list of indie albums with interesting genre descriptions. Hailing from Bern, Switzerland, Of Dwarfs And Other Creatures builds on the peculiar trope that propels the music of other norm-neglecting greats and carves out its own niche with genre-blending tales of gloomy grandeur laced with jazzy beatlets. Picture Scottish folk dancers and the confused looks on their pale faces as bagpipes are replaced with trombones and sleek, tailored suits magically appear in place of hand-woven kilts. This is what Headspace feels like.
With Sibyl Hofstetter on lead vocals, Kristinn Kristinsson on the lead guitar and also providing subtle male-sounding vocalisation, and Lisa Hoppe on the bass-guitar, glockenspiel and backing vocals, Of Dwarfs And Other Creatures creates music with vocals that shine through their foundation of seldom used musical instruments.
‘Are you Aare’ starts with a soft jazzy progression with electronic clippings. Sibyl’s voice flows in as the song turns on itself and slowly evolves into irish-esque folk, then dives back into a slow, deep windiness and again back into calmer waters. This continues until the instrumentals dissolve into acapella as the song ends.
‘Seems Bizarre’, which is possibly the folksiest track on the album starts with basic strumming, accompanied with soft rings from the glockenspiel. The structure of this song as a whole is a true reflection of the undeniable beauty of change.
Sharp inhalation followed by a soft, mellisonant sigh is first heard on ‘Blue Fairy’. The first part of the song is so gentle and airy you almost feel the temperature drop when the percussions lick their way to the surface, cancelling out the backing vocals until the final heart-shattering two minutes. It is like a neo-classical emotional construct.
The instrumentally-dependent ‘For a Friend’ is evocative of folktronica. A story is clearly being told here as Sibyl begins with a classic, “Once upon a time… “. Vivid recollections are complemented with scratchy guitar breakdowns that leave their mark. The instrumentals are soon stripped-down to the jazz guitar before being layered upon by mild electronics which is followed by a melodic soliloquy.
‘Dezember’ begins with a simple guitar plucking, which progresses to a synthed hook. The glockenspiel comes in to deliver the expected shift in tone. It is the kind of song you want to listen to on a starry night while lying on a meadow.
The next track is rather confusing. On the one hand, ‘The Older Your Heart’ sounds like a bluesy down-tempo experience, but the lyrical arrangement is quite the contradiction as it later heats up to a simple chant, ‘… the older your heart, the worse is the breaking…’ that makes Hofstetter seem like a downtrodden mind full of half-thoughts.
‘Obscure Sacrifice’ is country blues at its finest. Vaguely reminiscent of a Matt Corby song, an acoustic solo comes in halfway through, with Sibyl’s soulful hums graduating into ‘la-dee-da’s’ before finally morphing into minimal alternative rock.
‘I’m A Lovesong’ is where Kristinn’s male-sounding vocals shine through, paving way for the two chanteuses of the group. Starting off with the trio showing-off their prowess in singing acapella, the song soon evolves into a slow-burning gypsy ballad. A notable highlight is the sharp one-toner strummed repeatedly over the sound of maracas during the penultimate hook.
Careless whistling is casually combined with a percussive acoustic guitar on ‘Innocent’ before the lead’s voice overwhelms all. The introspective chorus, ‘just think as you’re feeling lost in this pit/don’t think about yearning as solution is cause’, is suggestive of an author’s note. The message being passed here in my opinion is the acceptance of the flawed nature of life, and the appreciation of its numerous quirks.
The final track ‘Naive and Greedy’ is arguably the most ambitious song on this album, from its short opening arioso to the percussive guitar strums. A sudden, but fluid shift around 2:49 immediately gives the track a haunting dark cabaret feel – a promise of Armageddon that never quite comes.
Headspace explores the depths of how avant-garde indie can be. First-time listeners may find the album to be auditory disturbing due to the uncanny lyrical progressions, succinct switches in pace and theme, tonal shifts that will make you wonder if you are listening to the same song, and the general aura of the album itself. Even I had to give them a few (a lot of) listens to acclimatise myself with their eccentricity before writing this review. What, at first felt like a gigantic ordeal of incoherent madness finally paid off. It never quite bursts past its self-provided benchmark of keeping a ‘lo-fi’ air throughout, sending rebellious pulses once in a while only to kill them shortly after. One cannot help but appreciate this sombre cocktail of classic jazz and pop-folk, and I honestly hope to hear more music like this moving forward.