Taken By Trees – East Of Eden

[Rough Trade; 2009]

It’s worth noting that the initial draw for many to Victoria Bergsman’s latest effort under the Taken By Trees moniker is the inclusion of Animal Collective, as the record includes “My Boys”, a reimagining of the Baltimore group’s “My Girls.” But the way Bergsman has arranged it for herself – with a playful toy accordion, a twinkling xylophone and bobbing guitar, along with altering the lyrics slightly – anyone could well be convinced the track is her own. And despite its upbeat sound, it fits the flow of an album that hides sadness behind a haze of mystical and redolent instrumentation.

The most apt example of this is the opening track “To Lose Someone.” Once the rattle kicks in and it begins its exotic funeral march, Bergsman feeds the listener lyrics piece by piece: “I lost you in the crowd/ in that unfamiliar town.” At first the tale sounds like its unwinding predictably enough, say a lover’s chase through a bustling market scene. But when the next line is dealt the whole atmosphere changes: “They found your bag in the river/ where hardly no one goes.” Bergsman doesn’t fill space with details of this story but rather lets the ambiguity in the lyrics run wild in the mind of listener. Every subsequent listen of the song leads to the recurring flute motif becoming more and more haunting as you put your own (probably distressing) meaning to the words. By the time the wordless singing of a male voice seeps in at the end of the track, you begin to wonder if his presence is there to reassure or merely represent.

Though it may emanate a sort of natural wonder and warmth, it’s the subtle turns of phrase alongside intriguing musical backdrops where the hidden strength of East Of Eden lies. Take the next stopping point for those interested by the aforementioned Animal Collective presence, “Anna,” which has Panda Bear providing backing vocals. Beginning with what is to be presumed to be Pakistani children chanting (the album was recorded there) the track fades in a hazy and lulling tone creating an almost dreamlike atmosphere. Bergsman echoes herself at first but as track progresses Panda Bear takes her place, creating a reassuring sense of another. Once again she uses her slight lyrics carefully and effectively. Speaking to the female in the song title she begins by singing that she “will never see what you did to me” suggesting a sinister undertone without even having to mention anything specific. But come to second half of the track the lyric changes to read that she “will never know what you mean to me”. The effectiveness comes over time – you’ll probably register the change upon first listen but it won’t be until after a few listens you actually realise what she did.

Another strength the record has is in creating a sense of place. Just one glance at the album’s cover art and you know you’ll be entering somewhere closer to nature. And as said, the record has plenty of songs that would perfectly soundtrack a sight of a morning dew fog over a lush landscape full of ripe foliage from the way the wind blows over a hushed organ at the beginning of “Greyest Love Of All,” or the ethereal hum of beguiling closing track “Bekännelse.” But Bergsman also captures the image of the bustling productive country that Pakistan is from the way sounds of passing traffic and street life find their way onto songs throughout the record to the slightly spontaneous busking sound of “Wapnas Karna.”

But also on the cover is Bergsman draped in a pink headscarf. She hides the half of her face that we can’t see and it acts as a fitting representation of herself on the album. She often only sounds like she’s keeping details from us, hiding not behind but amidst the music, but as said; it only works in her favour to create a work of beauty, even though it’s at a small scale (the album just runs over the half hour mark). It’s something that’s eternally enclosed onto the likes of a CD but once it begins, it unravels and opens up to sound endless in scope at points, reaching out to all corners with a comforting grasp. She gives us a glimpse of a new and beautiful world and much like the place we already live in, it may be harrowing at times but there’s still a whole other side for us to explore at our own accord.