You might expect When We Lived in the Crook of a Tree to be a collection of winsome, woolly songs about treehouses. Nope. The first words are: “There once grew a tree, ten flimsy branches on it, that used to hide us when the bailiffs came”. The piano opening is immediately intimate, solemn, and austerely beautiful. Jo Mango seems to be daring herself to sing as whisperingly as possible, but the softness isn’t boring: I listen closely, in much the same way that I’d listen to someone sharpening a knife in a downstairs room. There’s just voice, piano, the quiet creaking of wood, and then harmonica, and then double bass, and then lighter, strummed strings…
The first track is so close to the sound and mood of PJ Harvey’s spooky, lyrical White Chalk album that it could be seen as simply imitative, but the rest of the record marks out its own territory. ‘Seasonless’ opens with accordion, and a more transcendent mood. Despite the fact that it ends with an image of burial, the music works against what could be dirge-like, creating a nascent state, longing for a more fully-lived life: “I’ll laugh, but not all of my laughter, and I’ll cry, but not all of my tears, and I’ll kneel, and I’ll dig if you tell me, but nothing will grow in a seasonless world… I keep thinking someone’s going to come now, I keep saying something’s got to come.” It’s a tantalisingly brief, echoing piece.
‘Send In the Crows’ is different again: handclaps, drums and xylophone. It’s rhythmically fun, but has a poignant, elegiac undercurrent, and the bluntness of a folk tale: the lyrics address various birds, asking them to take a morbid message. Along with elegiac birds, mother-infant bonds are a recurring theme, the deep roots of family and blood: ‘Take Your Medicine’ finishes the EP in a tearful hug. It’s all very fleeting, and moving.
Words: Becky Varley–Winter