As Belle and Sebastian’s original belle, singer/cellist Isobel Campbell helped transform the pedestrian lives of her bandmates — and, by extension, fans — into something more magical. Solo, her music has grown less tethered to the present, and Milkwhite Sheets is the sound of her swan dive into the cosmos of psychedelic folk that’s so widespread these days.
Recorded concurrently with last year’s Ballad of the Broken Seas (dirtbag-meets-seraph duets with gutter prince Mark Lanegan), Sheets is Campbell’s hallucination of a cozy English garden party: Reverb drenches her flutelike voice, with acoustic guitar, dulcimer, recorder, hand drums, and ominous drones providing the backdrop. The songs are folk standards and trad-sounding originals, and some imagine humans courting animal wildlife — metaphorically speaking, not a huge thematic leap from Seas.
Campbell’s voice is a wan thing; in terms of technique, her “Reynardine” can’t touch benchmark versions by Sandy Denny or June Tabor. But the new psych-folk scene privileges vibe, idiosyncrasy, and especially mystery — a quality in short supply in today’s reality-obsessed pop world. At its best, Milkwhite Sheets pulses with these qualities. And the album’s seductive creepiness speaks to the common criticism of freak folk as blissed-out escapism: Campbell conjures a pastoral world that, just as you’re succumbing to its beauty, reveals itself to be as dark and threatening as the real one.
Now Hear This: Isobel Campbell, Milkwhite Sheets “O Love Is Teasin'” WINDOWS MEDIA “Willow’s Song” WINDOWS MEDIA “Yearning” WINDOWS MEDIA “James” WINDOWS MEDIA “Hori Horo” WINDOWS MEDIA “Reynardine” WINDOWS MEDIA “Milkwhite Sheets” WINDOWS MEDIA “Cachel Wood” WINDOWS MEDIA “Beggar, Wiseman or Thief” WINDOWS MEDIA “Loving Hannah” WINDOWS MEDIA “Are You Going to Leave Me?” WINDOWS MEDIA “Over the Wheat & the Barley” WINDOWS MEDIA “Thursday’s Child” WINDOWS MEDIA