MUSIQUE BOUTIQUE: Dolphin Midwives, Anika, Olivia Newton-John in Toomorrow

Welcome to Audiofemme’s monthly record review column, Musique Boutique, written by music journo vet Gillian G. Gaar. Every fourth Monday, Musique Boutique offers a cross-section of noteworthy reissues and new releases guaranteed to perk up your ears.

The new Dolphin Midwives album, Body of Water (Beacon Sound) is a transcendent, magical work that defies ready categorization, encompassing voice, harp, percussion, and electronics courtesy Portland, Oregon sound artist Sage Elaine Fisher. Experimental, ambient, neo-classical, sonic manipulation — the album encompasses elements of each of these, yet stands as a singular, distinctive work in its own right.

It’s bookended by two widely differing pieces. The opener, “Hyperobject,” starts as a simple series of percussive beats paired with a light “ha-ha-ha” vocal melody, both of which become increasingly fragmented until they merge in a swirling cascade of intense sound. At the other end, “Sunbathing” is a gentle number played on the harp, lyrical and soothing, though there’s a slight twist in the final minute, when there’s a sonic hiccup, a kind of stumble. Sage’s processed voice provides an ethereal sheen. “Hummingbird-i” begins with a stuttering vocal that seemingly emulates the rapid wings of the bird. The mesmerizing “Clearing” has a crystalline lead voice winding around murmured backing vocals and a pulse running underneath as steady as a heartbeat. In “Capricorn,” Sages sings in counterpoint to a somewhat clipped keyboard line, her vocal harmonizing turning back on itself in a never-ending cycle. Body of Water is a remarkable work of great depth, an intriguing album that casts a spell, drawing you into its mysterious realm.

British-born, Berlin-based musician Anika (Annika Henderson) first made her name with her 2010 self-titled debut, which offered fractured reworkings of songs like Yoko Ono’s “Yang Yang” and Ray Davies’ “I Go to Sleep.” She’s since worked with numerous other musicians and artists, as well as forming the band Exploded View (based in Mexico City), but hasn’t released another solo work until now.

Anika pithily describes her new album, Change (Sacred Bones) as “a vomit of emotions, anxieties, empowerment, and of thoughts like — How can this go on? How can we go on?” Perfectly reasonable questions to ask during a pandemic, which is when this album was recorded, Anika co-producing alongside Exploded View’s Martin Thulin (who also played bass and drums). The first track, “Finger Pies,” opens with the kind of melodic, ’60s-era sound (thudding bass, poppy melody) that brings to mind the best of Motown, but that’s just the jumping off point. Anika has the kind of cool, deadpan delivery that inevitably gets compared to Nico. But there’s a sly humor at work, as in “Critical,” when she solemnly intones she’ll give her man what he deserves, only to reveal that the “little gift” might just be cyanide. Among the electronic beats, rhythms, and synths, you’ll find some heart and soul, and no small measure of determination; as she urges in “Rights”: “Feel your power/Show me power.”

In the summer of 1978, Grease was the word, and if the radio wasn’t playing “You’re the One That I Want,” it was playing “Hopelessly Devoted to You.” But little did most of those enjoying Olivia Newton-John’s turn as Sandy in the musical blockbuster know that it wasn’t her first time before film cameras. In 1970, she appeared in Toomorrow, as a member of an aspiring rock band who get beamed up to a UFO, where some visiting extra-terrestrials beg them to voyage to their home planet, because Toomorrow’s music is so cosmically conscious it will help their species survive. Gee, and all Toomorrow wanted was a record contract!

Due to various legal complications, the film had poor distribution and was little seen, making it an obvious contender for cult film status, especially after Newton-John became a hit recording artist. Now, the film’s soundtrack has been rescued from obscurity by ace reissue label Real Gone Music. The songs are light, tuneful pop; think the Cowsills or the Partridge Family. Newton-John gets the lead in “Walkin’ on Air,” and her voice rings through on the group numbers. The film is good kitschy fun, and can be found on DVD (or you can watch it in its entirety below, thanks to intrepid YouTube users).

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