There are ghosts in here. They're floating around this room and swirling around my head like a stray funnel cloud. I can feel them above me and below me. They are everywhere. In this ethereal world created by Lovely Midget AKA Rachel Shearer, the spirits of the undead seem to be rising once more. Over a maze of heavily processed synthesizers and guitars, these voices command the attention of anyone who is listening. It's like having your head thrust underwater, into an underworld of trapped souls longing to escape. You feel trapped, but you also feel compelled to listen to this entire record. Opening the album with the brilliant title track is a bold and wise choice. After hearing such a mesmerizing piece, there's no way anyone would turn "North Head" off at this point.
The overall effect of "North Head" (both the song and the entire album) is practically disorienting; I wouldn't want to listen to this album in the car. However, that's the point. Shearer is a true sonic artist. She manipulates sounds and obscures them to the point of being unrecognizable. She follows the title track with the 7 1/2 minute "Squall." These pulsating rushes of sound could be just about anything. My first guess is that it's a heavily manipulated drum track. It's cut up and distorted to the point that it sounds vaguely like an out-of-sync heartbeat. The name of the piece is appropriate, though, because it's low-end bursts raise the hairs on the back of my neck. It actually makes the air in the room vibrate like it does after a thunder clap. Every part of this song, from it's slow build-up to its almost-tribal finale play out like an oncoming squall line. It's done so well that it's eerie.
Shearer hails from New Zealand, so it should come as no surprise that many moments on "North Head" call to mind my favorite Kiwi, Alastair Galbraith. This comparison is especially obvious when Shearer pulls out her violin on tracks like "Fading" and "Heavy Weather." Galbraith's trademark has always been his ability to bend violin sounds as far as possible without breaking them. There is nothing he won't do to/with a violin. Shearer does the same thing on these tracks and often times, the violin sounds nothing like what you'd expect a violin to sound like. "Fading" uses atmospheric sounds, similar to those in the title track, to create a whimsical sound world. As her violin plods and screeches along, I get an image of a lonely child forced to practice this wretched instrument in their lonely room. This track just makes me feel horribly alone.
The latter piece, while keeping in the spirit of Galbraith, also reminds me of another New Zealand artist, Campell Kneale. This seething drone has all the life sucked out of it. It's like hearing the machinistic rumbles of a distant, alien planet. There is no light here. I feel like this song exists in a vacuum, and each subsequent listen makes it harder and harder to breathe. I am really amazed at the way Shearer manages to to push this song to the absolute limit. This is brilliant.
Lovely Midget is another in a long line of impressive sound deconstructionists from New Zealand. "North Head" is her finest outing to date, and will be a hard album to top. On earlier recordings, she seemed to still be feeling her way around; she seemed like a student waiting to take that one final test. "North Head" is proof that she is now the teacher. She has mastered the ability to craft a song out of highly processed sounds, turn it upside down, shove it through a reverb unit, and have it come out the other side, polished and ready for consumption. This is the work that only could be created by a master's ear. "North Head" is quite the sonic masterpiece. 8/10 -- Brad Rose (25 May, 2005)