Ether column, February 2009

A mixed bag of artists for you this month, all of them testifying to the enduring power of the song. First up is waif-like Austrian singer Marilies Jagsch, whose concert at the Haus der Musik is promoted by the Vienna Songwriting Association – the people behind last November’s excellent Bluebird Festival, at which she also played. Faced with the unenviable task of playing support to Okkervil River, Jagsch acquitted herself with great strength that night. There’s a palpable sense of intensity and desolation to her songs, which she writes and sings in English. Sounding not unlike British singer-songwriter Beth Orton, Jagsch plays delicately wrought acoustic guitar and occasionally bursts forth with passages of powerful dissonance. Songs from her long-awaited debut album Obituary for a Lost Mind are sure to get an airing.

The Tiger Lillies are an unusual three-piece group from London with roots deep in cabaret, gypsy music and French chanson. They’re best known for their music for the opera Shock Headed Peter (based on the German children’s book Struwwelpeter), on which their humorous yet nightmarish songs provide a suitably creepy soundtrack. In 2003 they followed it up with another successful project, The Gorey End. A collaboration with revered string group the Kronos Quartet, this was an adaptation of macabre stories by the American writer and illustrator Edward Gorey. Revelling in the bawdy traditions of vaudeville, the Tiger Lillies have a gift for transforming the places they play – in this case, the sorely atmosphere-lacking Szene Wien – into pleasantly disreputable cabaret dens.

Anne Clark is also British, although like many artists of her ilk she has found larger audiences for her work in continental Europe than in the UK. Less constrained by the dictates of fashion, and with a considerably less oafish media to contend with, European audiences are more receptive to Clark’s diverse and experimental range of styles. A poetic songwriter and gifted pianist, Clark’s output ranges from dance music and torch song to more elaborate orchestral pieces. Most often, though, she half-speaks, half-recites her lyrics to a stinging electronic accompaniment that places her within the European dark wave tradition. She has collaborated with the likes of John Foxx, the former leader of Ultravox, Vini Reilly of the Durutti Column and Martyn Bates of Eyeless In Gaza – all, like her, mercurial songwriting talents whose work rarely attracts the attention of the mainstream. Having just released her first album in twelve years, The Smallest Acts of Kindness, Anne Clark is assured of a warm and enthusiastic welcome in Vienna.

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