23
Jun
09

The Sanity of Slumber: The Mummers’ Tale To Tell

The Mummers Tale to Tell

Over a month ago, I was watching the first episode of the current series of Later…With Jools Holland, and my ears perked up at the sounds coming from Brighton-based band, The Mummers. Vocalist/songwriter, Raissa Khan-Panni, exuded playfulness with her melodica at her lips, as the miniature orchestra produced a ramshackle rhapsody behind her. Quirky, offbeat and magical are often overused terms for artists like this (I, myself, have probably overused them), and it becomes difficult not to make comparisons to female singer-songwriters like Kate Bush and Bjork, two artists who often make you feel like you fell down a rabbit hole. But as their medieval name suggests, The Mummers do have an otherworldy, ad hoc performance troupe quality to them, and their music definitely evokes marching bands, circuses and fairgrounds, which can all be rather magical and childlike. And all the while, Khan-Panni’s lyrics definitely weave a web of old-fashioned storytelling.

March of the Dawn, which was played on Jools Holland, lives up to its title with a gentle march, including muted trumpets and bubbles of strings. One of the most memorable lines in this paean to renewal is “Someone said we end before we begin,” and the theme of eschewing the outside world and telling one’s own tale makes its first appearance in this song. Wake Me Up, the other selection performed on Jools Holland, sounds like a circus pantomime with moments of hush interspersed with soaring trumpet interludes and plucked strings. Khan-Panni sings, “I’ve been silently forgetting that I love a million clowns,” and suddenly all I can envision is a harlequin ballroom festooned with glittering bunting. The fantasy worlds don’t cease; along with later track, See Alice, Wonderland is one of the more obvious nods to Carollian craziness, and its surreal arrangement and fantastical waltz makes it the perfect song for dreamers. There are plays on the melodic theme of March of the Dawn. Lorca and the Orange Tree, which I just used on my summer mix yesterday, feels slightly more modern with its pulsing beat and vocal effects; then again, technology is just another form of magic.

For the track, This is Heaven, I picture a parade of waddling clowns making their way through Oz or Toyland. In this song, Khan-Panni’s upper register definitely reminds me of Bjork, and heaven becomes more than a cerulean sky sponged over with clouds. The title track uses hazy, tinkling sounds against a soft, out-of-focus beat. Of course the motif of telling tales pops up again as Khan-Panni sings “free in love like a sunny day and a pea green boat,” instantly evoking the beautiful nonsense of Edward Lear. The sunshine of the previous tracks fades into a midnight garden under moonlight as Place For Us rolls in; traces of fairy lights are everywhere as the lyrics encourage a stepping away from mundane responsibilities and obligations. The aforementioned See Alice explicitly references the brilliant book through lines like “‘Curious’ she says, ‘still it remains the same.'” The relinquishing of the senses and trappings of rationality floats through cascading harmonies, which descend like a warm twilight; it becomes a lullaby for hammocks high above the Earth. The music feels like a transformative force, displaying the cracks in reality and gleefully tearing them open. In Teardropsfall, the combination of tomtom and bass reminds me of the yé-yé style of the 60s. The hushed, controllled vocals are sweet and soulful backed by overdubs of kaleidoscopic proportions. Two minutes in, the song goes a little off-kilter, rolling on a pleasant tilt and slides of flute; there are more excellent lyrics, making Bacharach familiar yet not, with the lines “teardrops are falling on my head/maybe something will grow.” The record concludes with Nightbus, a slower, loungey track that seems to wind everything down. The narrator has “no reason to be anywhere,” and says, “I’m still waiting for my curtain call.” And, rather appropriately, the track doesn’t quite end as a hidden, untitled piece comes in after some silence; “let it go/let it roll” is repeated like a cooing mantra as Khan-Panni seems to revel in her own lack of rules and meaning. The album slowly comes loose and dissolves like the ephemeral, but captivating magic of a seeding dandelion – the melting of the frosted globule becomes something more than a weed…if only for a moment.

This is truly a fantastic summer record. There aren’t too many records these days that bring me back to the dreamscapes of my childhood, but this one does without an ounce of cynicism. And I don’t think childhood is particularly simple or indicative of simpler times; I’m more inclined to believe that children just don’t get fussed if things don’t make sense. The album feels like a score to a particularly enchanting film with heightened hues and natural strangeness. In telling their own stories, The Mummers end up telling the narratives of others. Listening to it, I’m transported back to a place where mirrors and backs of wardrobes are gauzy enough to walk through; where toads wrecklessly take their motorcars for a drive; where you might just ride a luck dragon through Fantasia; where you might just become airborne in a giant peach. It’s a dream that you never want to wake from, and when you do, you happily turn over and let the sanity of slumber wash over you again.

March of the Dawn – The Mummers

Wonderland – The Mummers

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1 Response to “The Sanity of Slumber: The Mummers’ Tale To Tell”


  1. 1 aria
    June 26, 2009 at 6:26 am

    Wow I love these two songs. The singer’s voice is definitely Bjork-like in March of the Dawn, and a little bit Shirley Bassey in Wonderland – and the music is wonderful. I think I’m going to buy this album! Thanks very much for reviewing it.


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Everyone I've loved or hated always seems to leave

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So I turned myself to face me

But I've never caught a glimpse

Of how the others must see the faker

I'm much too fast to take that test

The Smiths Queen is Dead

A dreaded sunny day

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A dreaded sunny day

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But you lose 'cause weird lover Wilde is on mine

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Charles Windsor, who's at the door

At such an hour, who's at the door

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You think you're giving

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Won't someone give me more fun?

(and the skin flies all around us)

We kiss in his room to a popular tune

Oh, real drowners

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Don't walk away

In silence

See the danger

Always danger

Endless talking

Life rebuilding

Don't walk away

Walk in silence

Don't turn away in silence

Your confusion

My illusion

Worn like a mask of self-hate

Confronts and then dies

Don't walk away

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You don't want to hurt me

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I don't know whether

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You then put me under

Personal taste is a matter of gender

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I wake at dusk to go alone without a light

To the unknown

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I want to feel

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You'll never live like common people

You'll never do what common people do

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You'll never watch your life slide out of view

And dance and drink and screw

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All I have is words, words that don't obtain

And I feel I'm a stain on your horizon

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Is it him, is it me

Or is there something only I can see

How did I get here, why do we blow around like straw dogs on the breeze

I'm a special one, what they used to say

But I've to stay on, finish levels-A

You don't need exams when you've read John Gray

The Indelicates American Demo

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With fat men who once met the MC5

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Absolutely anyone can play the fucking guitar

JAMC Darklands

And we tried so hard

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Plucked her eyebrows on the way

Shaved her leg and then he was a she

She says, hey babe,

Take a walk on the wild side

Said, hey honey, take a walk on the wild side

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Hide on the promenade

Etch a postcard:

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Come, come, come - nuclear bomb

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Back when we were kids

We would always know when to stop

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Nobody has gained or accomplished anything

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It's not a cry that you hear at night

It's not somebody who's seen the light

It's a cold and it's a broken hallelujah

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For Thursday's child is Sunday's clown

For whom none will go mourning

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I won't tell anybody

If you want to use my body

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And get out for a bit

Because I feel it all fading and paling

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To drag you down with me

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Did you see the way I cowered to authority

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It's a sham, and I'm conditioned to accept it all, you see

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To treat me like you do

When you've laid your hands upon me

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Feeling like I'm waiting

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Valentines

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Just leave them alone

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The body is good business

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Going round in a circle I can't get out

Then I look around thinking day and night and day

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Psychdedelic Furs

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India, you're my love song

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And live our useless lives

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Cut off your hair yeah that's it!

If you look like that I swear I'm gonna love you more

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Burning all the old folks, the witches and the liars.

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But my heart keeps watchin' through the skin of my eyelids

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Ridicule is nothing to be scared of

Don't you ever, don't you ever

Stop being dandy, showing me you're handsome


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