(Bush Hall, EFG London Jazz Festival, 10 November 2023. Review by AJ Dehany)
Gazelle Twin’s fourth album Black Dog dramatises a fundamental insight that there is a connection between the physiology of depression and supernatural hauntings. The black dog is a familiar metaphor and also a literal shadow that producer-composer-performer, Elizabeth Bernholz, could see as a child. The album is an oblique ghost story haunted by dark stairs and long rooms in empty houses, dreamlike figures disappearing and reappearing through walls while doors open and close— at the same time it is a frank psychological study of anxiety experienced in childhood, adulthood, and parenthood.
A theatrical realisation of the album, resequenced among the ornate cornices of the restored Edwardian dance hall of the Bush Hall, might have helped to win over some of those who found the Black Dog album comparatively downbeat after the battering directness of her epochal breakthrough third album Pastoral. In 2019 she performed as a red-clad folk devil out of Psychoville, part bouffon, part football hooligan, riding the hobby horse of English nationalism. For Black Dog she is white and gaunt and spectral in a shimmering blue suit, sculpturally poised alone with the microphone, or channelling a nineteenth-century medium perched on a chair lit by a standing lamp, or stirring up unsettling glitches from a reel-to-reel tape recorder in an unnerving but absorbing sound world of classic Moog and EMS synths, VE20 vocal processors, spooky loops of piano and cello, and the inexplicable noises of occult presences and unseen intelligences.
Gazelle Twin makes electronic music that intersects between her parallel careers as a commercial film and TV composer for shows like “The Walking Dead” and as a producer working in the electronic avant garde— but the primary power of Gazelle Twin is in the astonishing range of her voice: from eerie whispers to bellowing roar, from resonating countertenor to shattering soprano, often warped with electronic processing. Black Dog is in between the electronic of Pastoral and her choral reworking of the album with NXG Choir, Deep England. Her voice is foregrounded more than ever, ringing with power, then exposed and vulnerable— Annie Lennox at her most beguilingly vampiric, Bowie at his most pallidly Duchal, but mostly the very ghost of Scott Walker. The haunted programme of the set was complete in itself, but “Unstoppable Force” reprised as a strident encore was not really enough to appease those who were hoping for a longer set thrashing through the clattering immediacy of four-to-the-floor bangers like “Hobby Horse” and “Better In My Day”. But to revel in Black Dog’s eldritch stangeness is to confirm Gazelle Twin’s status as one of the most captivating artists of New Weird Britain, and to assert Black Dog in performance as one of the most spellbinding documents of contemporary dread and anxiety.
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AJ Dehany writes independently about music, art and spooky stuff. ajdehany.co.uk