Jokers Daughter - The Last Laugh

Martin Goodhead 21/06/2009

Rating: 4.5/5

Sometimes it takes an outsider to see most clearly. Joker's Daughter is borne out of the most unlikely to collaborations - an Anglo-Greek songstress and New York's Danger Mouse—and an equally unlikely Lady of Shallot amidst Roman ruins meets wildhoney poetics of the more feral points of the natural trust and the dimmer parts of a never-worlde Britishness.

This is electronic music with the pulse of celluloid visions and wheat sheaf organicism alike. Conjured up by the singular fusion of a once hip-hop based sound architect (responsible for the Grey Album, and the recent fabulously creep collaboration with David Lynch on 'Dark Night of the Soul') with an alt- folkstress lyrically brimming with Joanna Newson levels of eccentricity. At its wooliest The last Laugh is adorned in a fairytale vocabulary of 'houses from pea-pods' and roofs of butterflies, around edges linger animals like Angela Carter creations with human-eyes more likely to induce primordial tingles in some long-buried story of the body. More tangibly- lingering also are Danger Mouse's quotation mark anachronisms . They wobble the sound like a frayed movie screen or felt-silk painting-disrupting the aura only to leave a blankness like map spaces behind. Or a wide-eyed precocity like Neutral Milk Hotel's Rorschach magic eye Aran jumper blend of earnestness and weirdness; those two-headed 'fingers in the groove', referenced here by those shanty lyrical facades and the appearance of NMH guitarist Scott Spillane. Songs entitled 'jaffa cakes' 'jelly belly' are reminiscent of teddy-bear tea parties with rustic sylphs, but under the lighting of Michael Gondry's Bjork 'Human behaviour' video.

Yet The Last Laugh's psyhic space ranges from wild plain symphonies to barefoot-dances in the wild thyme grove, through garrets and acrylic afternoon tea-shop interior drama as the rain beats like guill feathers, to the murky sea sea-sound somnambulism which greets a gaze emerging in a coastal hotel from a murky night still with a light film of your lover's musk, the sound suggestive of a blue-room atmospheric also still musked on the walls like the cobwebs and coffee stain maps. Round-eyed pastoralia entangled with wool-brine twine and fishnets of all kinds with the pan-dance of rites in the fire-eye over fire-water, then mingled with a town-born sybaricity and eflacious eye are all singularly characteristic of Pulp-particularly swansong I Love Life.

Or St Etienne's most sardonic barb-loaded pocket symphonies with Isabel Campbell trilling about 'licking railings' like a defrocked choir-girl- clappy sensuality doe-eyed. Kinned to Jarvis's crew's kitchen-sink dramas on 'His and Hers' tracks like 'Someone Like the Moon'; pure plastic warped and sealed camembert as art-exhibit and soiled memento like something from the Tate modern. But it's Cocker's 'Willows Song' sampling Wicker-man fixations which mingle the 1973 film's uncanny orchestrics of eroticism set against puritan guilt pangs in a fight for history and soul and origins of classic British iconography, and London/Sheffield modernity-oneriric and otiose, which The Joker's Daughter is closest to.

Parts evoke the green-man festival day-time musical shrubbery of fleet foxes; but this 'arcadia' is as arcane and artificed as Sidney's and Stoppard's, and Danger Mouses buccaneer vacuum-drop-beats suddenly whistling wood-s- the bucolic stage-dressed grim fairy counterpart to that hermetic urban northernism of the best factory era or the Smiths's first album's production in dot to map shape sewing pictures of the isles like an extended 'this is a low' lyric turned to pure sound. Except when its fairground folk mysteriousness mingles with the reedy modern blues of Bt Gibbons and Rustin Man's out of season.

On which note though, certain flaws Do creep up after the first two euphoric listens. None of the rock matches 'Out of seasons' eponymous title track and its grandiose West-country Delta-grunge (grunge in the sense Kurt seemed to understand, as on some level the aural successor to those Bessie's and Leadbelly's). Nor do the even the missing chord apogees of NMH's '1945' and 'two headed boy'. Fiona Apple or Beth Orton are the strum-chick production-bathed spiritual predecessors of a track like 'Jelly', an acoustic major-key modern rockism which threatens to dispel the album's witchery. But much of the time there's that same reserve- showing the ability to crack open the depths and raise the firmament in the background whilst barely concealing that power under an engaging song-writing which is like day-time breezes shivered with distant-wind chimes. A mid-life musical crash of the strings down on the studio floor- and you suspect TLL could have lost 2 of those strummy centre tracks and their borderline syrup balladeering. Suspect right until it becomes apparent that within those upbeat numbers are the spirits of Fairport Convention and Richard/Linda Thompson meets the glam stomp from a carny stereo in the Wolds or the grey Scarborough coast festivals as laughter-in the charcoal dark.

The Last Laugh retains a surprising cohesive intensity despite guest appearances like composer Daniele Lupi and Spillane. But ultimately its defining triumph—its outsiderness- is most clearly captured within the Costas/DM centred final few segments. The suddenly dominant Romani carnivalesque scales are like captured accordion boxes-hand-painted figures wooden and theatrically representational, ; yet being super-natural they contain an uber-presence, uncanny so close as your skin and as universal as in each dew-drop primary colour in a thousand stories of darkwoods and collective shiver from Costas's timbre. It's there where-less 'English' the album reaches its pinnacle in folklore- no more nationalistic chimaeras, only the ur-beings behind them, of Germanic wolf outside the café on the cliffs through the portal, or in the trees chiming insects like during summer nights on Greek isles. It's a Russian sounding Chinese box- of intertexts; Modernist Russian Art of the 20th century was centred around something called defamilairisation- fitting then Danger Mouse too makes these birds sound like red-blood coloured cuckoos in a Moscow/Czech play mixed in with the Arthurian lake. The world of samples- re-animated simulacrums in new colours transposed to new stories- are like a magic toyshop in this post-modern album from histoire to suture which still has love and sad sweetness in its veins.