The human voice is a powerful instrument, able to express or elicit every emotion you can possibly think of, from joy to sadness and everything in between. It can be soothing, confrontational, uplifting or even frightening, as anyone who has ever been terrified by the choral works of Gyorgy Ligeti will attest.
Gaggle is an all-female group that uses the human voice – well, 21 of them to be exact – to make a pretty hefty musical statement. Formed in 2008 they have been named as one of the NME’s Top 50 Innovators and have appeared with Jools Holland. They are, it is safe to say, not your usual choir.
Gaggle sing, shout, chant, and use their voices in just about every way imaginable. The sound is many layered, with so many singers able to take multiple parts within the structure of each song. There are instruments as well as voices – mainly percussion – which, when combined with the voices give the whole sound something of a ‘world music’ feel (that’s probably far too simplistic a characterisation, but it gives some idea of what you will be listening to).
More than 20 voices singing together are inevitably a powerful musical force; this is a choir with attitude. It is loud, at times aggressive and always impossible to ignore. This album will not work as background music because the wall of sound here is so big; it demands the full attention of the listener and will not allow it any other way. In some ways Gaggle appear to be as much about the performance as the music, while at times the listener feels almost bullied by a group that will always dominate whatever space they occupy. For that reason “From The Mouth Of The Cave” isn’t a relaxing listen and one should definitely not expect ‘traditional’ choral work (in the style of, say, Rutter or Gardner); this is as in your face as you can get.
The songs themselves are rhythmically strong with both instruments and voices being used to good percussive effect, while the lyrics cover subjects as diverse as alienation, group power, economics and rejecting that which is not good for you. Gaggle’s songs sound like the music of liberation, of being set free to communicate emotion of whatever type. The dynamics are big, at times almost subsuming the melody, while many of the songs are loud, powerful and on occasion even a little jarring, although I’m sure that’s entirely intentional.
“From The Mouth Of The Cave” will not appeal to everyone with its sparse instrumentation and great wall of voices; but if you’re after a break from the norm, and willing to share in powerful vocal expressions of emotion, then it might be the new album you’ve been looking for.