Press: The Battle of Land and Sea
Some songs make you feel like you are traveling a journey. Each pluck or chord change on the acoustic guitar is like an oar pitched into the water, a step on the treadmill, a step down a darkened path. Now, if you don’t know what the F* I am talking about or think I may have been smoking something suspicious prior to this post, just click on the track below. I guarantee you’ll suddenly find yourself drifting out on your back down some sort of mental tributary. Sun blinks behind the clouds above you; water soaks your skin around you. All’s mellow and dreamy, carried along by the gentle cadence. Perhaps that’s why Sarah O’Shura decided upon the name “The Battle of Land and Sea”……as her music gives the sensation you are submerged somewhere in between the firm and the frothy…..and that’s something delightful. – Faith-Ann Young
Finalement, du combat qui oppose la Terre et la Mer (« battle of land and sea »), c’est l’Air qui sort vainqueur. Le premier album du duo de Portland, The Battle Of Land & Sea donc, tient en effet du souffle frais, de la brise agréablement glacée. Sarah O’Shura et Joshua Canny peignent sur une toile folk un paysage aquarelle aux formes à peine lisibles. O’Shura en murmure le cadre et les grandes lignes, Canny les habille par touches légères de couleurs quasi-transparentes. L’ensemble sonne un peu comme une mise en musique des oeuvres de Turner avec Alela Diane ou Songs Of Green Pheasant à la direction artistique. De l’odyssée de poche « Saltwater Queen » à « You Are A Sailor », rêverie dominée par la voix spectrale de O’Shura, , The Battle Of Land & Sea l’album, devient à force d’écoutes aussi essentiel qu’un des quatre éléments. – Benjamin
A collection of sweet and ghostly songs, for a wheedling awakening.
It’s the kind of immaterial records, as slow as self-effacement, that used to release the english label 4AD (from THIS MORTAL COIL to TARNATION). More recently, these bumble-bees and black butterflies used to settle on artists like CAT POWER or ALELA DIANE. SARAH O’ SHURA (who comes from Portland) is maybe not a great singer, but a wonderful “whisperer”. Maybe not a great musician, but a impressive tamer of fog and nostalgia. The fact is that this record, produced with solemnity (a solemnity that reminds the first LEONARD COHEN records) by the goldsmith JACOB GOLDEN, is not really a run of songs but a awaken dream, a cottonly trip, between dogs and wolves. It’s exactly the kind of music that we hear when a sunbeam, in the mist, reach the pillow and sweetly conclude the slumber. It’s so sweet to wake up with the whispers of SARAH O’ SHURA.
- JD BEAUVALET
Sarah O’Shura bewegt sich auf ziemlich dunnem Eis. Ihre hohe, behauchte Stimme, die uber den oft sehr langsamen Tempi auch mal in den Schlaf wegzusinken droht, dazu ganz einfache akustische Gitarre: Damit das droht, damit der Daumen vor dem Ausknopf innehalt, mus alles stimmen. Dabei helfen die exzellenten Hintergrunde, gemalt vor allem von Joshua Cannys elektrischer Gitarre und ausgeleuchtet von Jacob Goldens Produktion; jedes einzelne der acht Stucke fusst aber vor allem auf starken Melodien, die einem targelang nachgehen. Extrem herbstliche Stimmungen, die ein wenig an alte Sachen von Vini Reilly oder an die SST-Instrumentals-Compilation erinnern, hier ein Knicks vor Paul Simon, dort vor Country: Musik eines traumenden Kaliforniens. Notenuf, alle Antennen auf Anschlag, stehen grade so unter Spannung, dass es britzelt. Hinhoren.
Im ersten Moment ist Battle of Land and Sea eine Band, bei der samtliche Blutzirkulation zum Stillstand kommt, subtiler und minimalistischer geht’s nimmer. Dahinter steckt die kalifornische Singers/Songwriterin Sarah O’Shura, die heir auf den Spuren von Cat Power und Azure Ray wandelt – ihr Gesang ist nicht mehr als ein leichtes Sauseln im Wind, dazu gibt es sparliche Gitarrenarrangements, die auf den Einsatz von Schlagzeug vollig verzichten. Uberraschenderweise gelingt O’Shura trotz dieses musikalischen Sparkonzepts eine wirklich intensive wie emotional aufgeladene Atmosphare, die an die starksten Momente von Mazzy Star, Galaxie 500 oder der Cowboy Jenkins erinnert, deren Margo Timmins der unirdisch schone Gesang von O’Shura auch am nachsten komnt. In diesem zarten Stimmchen und den rudimentaren Gitarrenakkorden steckt eine erstunliche Power, die man im ersten Moment nicht vermutet hatte, und wenn man Lust auf einen in Plattenform konservierten wolkenverhangenen Regentag hat, ist Battle of Land and Sea sicher die erste Wahl. (8)
- Thomas Kerpen
The Battle of Land and Sea – std. Hauchzarter Neo-Folk, der gelegentlich – nicht zuletzt der STimme wegen – an Mazzy Star erinnert, aber eben noch feiner ist, in etwa konnen auch die sachten Momente von Cat Power als Wegmarke herhalten. Sangerin und Gitarristen Sarah O’Shura und Joshua Canny (E-Gitarre, Banjo) musizieren delikat, O’Shuras Stimme oft nur ein Hauch, wenn sie uber das Unterwegssein, das Meer, den Verlust von Geliebten und all den Dingen singt, die hier ganz klassisch verhndelt werden. Wunderschone Sache das (stone)
Uno degli effetti collaterali più gravi e odiosi della straordinaria semplicità con al quale si può reperire nuova musica che, quotidianamente, anche e soprattutto grazie alla rete, inonda l’orecchio dell’ascoltatore è la leggerezza con la quale una nuova proposta musicale dopo pochi giorni dal suo primo ascolto finisce per essere considerata obsoleta, rimanendo, nella maggior parte dei casi, travolta da una valanga di offerte ancora più fresche e attuali.
L’inevitabile conseguenza di tale situazione è che la musica di un artista, che non sia capace (o non abbia intenzione) di colpire nel segno anche a un ascolto disattento e frettoloso finisca in una sorta di limbo, si dimentichi in fretta, e non ne rimanga che una fuggevole (e, spesso, alterata) impressione.
Questo è il rischio che corrono, naturalmente, tutti quei musicisti che, pur non offrendo nulla di particolarmente innovativo o di facile presa, continuano, incuranti delle mode e dei problemi di cui si accennava, a proporre le loro canzoni e a investire il proprio tempo nella musica, per passione e urgenza creativa.
Sarah O’Shura e Johsua Canny fanno indubbiamente parte di questa categoria.
Il loro primo lavoro, sotto la sigla di The Battle Of Land And Sea, è semplice, non urlato, senza alcuno spunto di innovazione e difficilmente assimilabile da un orecchio distratto. Così, purtroppo, rischia di perdersi e di essere dimenticato anche prima della sua effettiva pubblicazione.
E sarebbe davvero un peccato.
The Battle Of Land And Sea vengono da Portland, nell’Oregon, e il loro album omonimo sembra quasi registrato in presa diretta nella spaziosa e vuota stiva di una nave persa in mezzo all’oceano.
La loro musica è come il pigro sciabordio delle onde in una sera senza vento, come il rumore dell’acqua che scorre in un ruscello tra i boschi. Suonano, con l’aiuto delle sole chitarre (acustiche ed elettriche) e del banjo, soavi, delicate, discrete canzoni country-folk che raccontano storie d’amore e parlano del mare.
Non vogliono stupire nessuno, e probabilmente non ci riusciranno, ma la loro genuina passione, la naturale eleganza nella scrittura dei brani e una particolare predisposizione per le melodie intime e rilassate riescono a elevare questo duo nettamente al di sopra della media delle produzioni attuali in ambito folk.
La voce di Sarah, poi, accompagnata dalle note sparse di Joshua, evoca dolci ricordi e, tra tutti, si fa avanti, nitida, l’immagine di una ninfa dalla voce angelica: Hope Sandoval con i suoi Mazzy Star. Benché il timbro della O’Shura sia meno sensuale e più elegiaco, il duo Sandoval/Roback è certamente un punto di riferimento per la musica di The Battle Of Land And Sea che, nei momenti più inquieti, richiama alla memoria anche la Cat Power più rilassata.
Gli otto brani che ne compongono l’esordio, sono oscuri e, a tratti, sconsolati ma, al tempo stesso, riescono a trasmettere una sensazione di calore e sicurezza, quasi come se fossero stati concepiti appena passata una devastante tempesta, nel momento in cui ci si appresta a leccarsi le ferite e a riparare i danni.
E alla fine, in questa placida battaglia tra la terra e il mare, chi ne esce vincitore è certamente la musica e chi, con pazienza e coraggio, ha investito un po’ del proprio prezioso tempo nell’ascolto di questo sorprendente esordio.
“You are a sailor, I am the sea” intona, con la sua voce suadente, Sarah O’Shura in chiusura di questo breve viaggio. Ed è facile intuire quanto il naufragar sia dolce in questo mare.
- Francesco Amoroso
Qui de la terre ou de la mer remportera la bataille à Portland ? Mais de bataille est-il vraiment question dans ce premier album tenant à si peu de choses, et au dessus duquel plane en permanence une auréole de douceur cotonneuse.
Sur le versant dominant, il y a Sarah O’Shura, soeur spirituelle de Hope Sandoval ou écho spectral de Cat Power, et sa guitare acoustique qui alterne finger-picking céleste façon Marissa Nadler avec accords égrenés au ralenti, dans leur plus simple appareil. De l’autre côté, légèrement en retrait, traîne le compagnon Joshua Canny muni d’une guitare électrique qui résonne au loin, parfois responsable de douces dérives euphoriques (Saltwater queen, I built the sea), qui envoie le duo rejoindre les sirènes patraques et lysergiques de Gnomonsong (Rio en Medio notamment). C’est d’ailleurs dans ce registre fantomatique et mystérieux, un peu ridé et maltraité, que la paire se fait la plus désirable. Même si lorsqu’elle s’attèle à davantage de conventions, élevant le tempo d’un poil et assainissant le climat pour se rapprocher du Carbon Glacier de Laura Veirs (Six days), leur bataille utopique, mené sous l’aile protectrice de Notenuf, reste très recommandable.
- Sébastien Radiguet
C’est le genre de surprise qui attend tout amateur de musique. Un jour, dans des circonstances imprévisibles, une chanson de provenance inconnue vous tombe dans l’oreille, convoquant avec elle tant de références familières qu’elle semble paradoxalement inouïe, soulevant tant de couches superposées de votre mémoire affective qu’elle vous laisse bizarrement un peu à vif, nu, désorienté. Vous n’avez jamais entendu ce morceau mais vous avez l’impression confuse qu’il couvait, latent et secret, dans des replis insoupçonnés du temps. C’est par cette grâce sans âge du folk américain que le premier album de The Battle of Land and Sea risque de surprendre les plus blasés. Un seul morceau pour donner l’exemple : “The Beautiful Ones” fait vaciller une voix féminine au bord de la brisure, à la fois enfantine et sensuelle, sur des ch¦urs plus doo-wop : Cat Power et El Perro del Mar tout à la fois, bigre. Le suivant, “Harden My Heart” (reprise languide d’un autre groupe de Portland du début des 80′s, Quarterflash) fait monter avec trois fois rien – un tempo affaissé, une douceur résignée coincée dans la gorge de Sarah O’Shura – l’émotion jusqu’aux larmes ; imaginez Cindy Lauper reprise par Trespassers William et vous ne serez pas trop loin du compte. Ailleurs, certaines chansons graciles (“Saltwater Queen”, “I Built the Sea”) déstabilisent les parties vocales par des réverb de guitare et vous retrouvez Mazzy Star dans le Désert de la Mort, après trois journées de marche épuisante, quand les dernières forces se transforment en hallucinations sucrées et que les derniers rêves d’oasis conduisent vers la mort. Pas de doute, ce groupe a un don, un truc aussi évident que sa musique est délicate, proche de l’effacement ou de l’étrangeté radicale. Une beauté élégiaque qui fournit l’occasion décisive de céder aux séductions des sirènes.
- David Larre
The Battle of Land and Sea…voilà un bien étrange et long nom pour le projet d’une seule et même personne…Sarah O’Shura. Premier album pour cette femme ayant élu pour résidence la ville de Portland dans l’Orégon. Les arbres, les fôrets et tout et tout… Autant le dire tout de suite Sarah ne s’appelle pas Chan (Marshall) ou Catpower mais les ressemblances sont évidentes et délicieusement frappantes. Avec un peu moins de chaleur dans la voix que sa cons¦ur, Sarah O’Shura se pose, de par son talent évident, comme une artiste parfaitement crédible. Si dans un premier temps, ces huit chansons peuvent paraître banales, chacune d’entre elles dévoile une sensibilité intéressante. Ses chansons d’une folk intimiste et minimaliste se laissent découvrir et apprivoiser au fil des écoutes, au fil aussi de cette voix fragile, fluette et au caractère presque éthéré. Les mélodies sont réhaussées d’atmosphères délicates souvent concoctées par la guitare électrique ou le banjo de son compère, Joshua Canny. Difficile de pénétrer l’espace propre de l’artiste qui se livre autant à la contemplation qu’à l’introspection. Terres perdues, désolées, solitaires pour des émotions qui ne lorgnent pas uniquement vers la mélancolie ou la tristesse. En tout juste huit morceaux qui ne nous amènent jamais sur les rivages soporifiques de l’ennui, The Battle of Land and Sea nous offre des moments calmes et tranquilles. Et de la Terre ou de la Mer qui c’est qui gagne ? Miss O’Shura et son naturel. Agréable et réussi !
It is hard to miss comparisons to artists like Cat Power and Mazzy Star on this debut from Sarah O’Shura. However, where Cat Power’s Jukebox disappointed, and Mazzy Star has done little to note for a decade or so, Battle of Land and Sea is a delight. As light as sea mist, the music flows in and ebbs away gently, the voice like clear mountain spring water over hushed instrumentation. Produced and recorded by rising star Jacob Golden, this short album is one that genuinely has you wanting more – if Cat Power had made this disc, the world’s critics would have gone into meltdown. There is contemplative mystery, sweet melody and a gossamer touch at turns – it has the air of the Cowboy Junkies’ Trinity Sessions in its atmospherics. Beauty is an overused word in relation to music, but it is unavoidable here – the sense of three dimensionality is absorbing. It is hard not to fall ‘within’ a song like Lady, to not feel held up in its soft chorus. It is rare to suggest that a record like this could only be improved by being longer, but Sarah O’Shura’s next work will be awaited with massive interest.
- Mike Rea
The spare landscapes of Sarah O’Shura and Joshua Canny are filled with lo-fi longing. “I’ve traveled far just to get to this state,” O’Shura sings in the finale, “You Are the Sailor,” after over half an hour of patiently introspective, sometimes haunting soundtrack-esque songs. Some dreams unfold in slow motion, and some tracks were meant to be listened to while lost at sea. Sure enough, The Battle of Land and Sea’s maritime metaphors are everywhere, especially on stark tracks like “I Built the Sea” and “Birdsong.” Understanding love, loss, and everything in between, at least for O’Shura and Canny, is evidently a very quiet process that works best when accompanied by the motion of the ocean.
- Scott Thill
Think of October for much of the country: the trees have changed to autumn shades and grey, hazy skies have become the norm. (Maybe with global warming, that’s what it looks like in February for some of you.) I always find this setting soothing, especially if you can escape one early morning to an isolated stretch of Oregon road bordered by towering pines. The further you drive down that slow, winding road, the more you lose your hearing. The world soundproofs itself against your thoughts and spirals in reverberated guitars and a haunting voice from another plain.
Sarah O’Shura owns that voice through eight tracks of this mesmerizingly lush voice/guitar duo release. What has been spun sticks to you, finds a hole in your exterior and fills the void within you. With The Battle Of Land And Sea, I felt like past horrors were coming back for my body. As awkward and fearful as that could be, Sarah’s vocals calm and shine light on beautiful objects even in battle.
But this is a look at a the battle’s aftermath. Rising from the frosty earth, under those towering pines are grey bodies, steam rising from warm wounds for mile after mile. However, this stretch of slow, winding road ends abruptly as pavement gives way to the darkly rolling swells of the North Pacific. Floating over the crests is a lone maiden ghost who can recant the battle of land and sea, if only you’ll listen.
- Jim Jacka
Damn, if this isn’t a record that just quietly creeps up on you and takes your brain hostage! At this point, Portland, OR duo the Battle of Land and Sea are probably the sole reason for me holding on to this neo-folk hangover. Seriously, in a day when just about anyone and everyone who knows their way around a G, C and D chord is putting out a CD, comes this too short of an album that reminds me of how powerful and lingering a good, simple song can be, as long as it’s sung with a little honest emotion and a lot of restraint. Albums don’t get much sparser than this, just the voice and six-string strums of Sara O’Shura and some icy guitar work from Joshua Canny. Songs like “Saltwater Queen” and “Lady” call to mind Mazzy Star unplugged, only here the generous dose of reverb on the mix isn’t about druggy atmosphere but rather daydream melancholy. Surprisingly affecting is their cover of “Harden My Heart” by early-’80s chart toppers Quarterflash, in which O’Shura changes the FM radio melodrama of the original into an intimate confessional and in turn, one-ups Cat Power’s sultry take on the Rolling Stones’ “Satisfaction.
- Gerald Hammill
Every time I think the guy or girl with a guitar formula is just about completely played out, I hear something that makes me think twice. The latest to make me do a double-take is The Battle Of Land And Sea, which conjures up a cross between a sort of more spectral Cat Power and the soft work of Amy Annelle (The Places). Mainly the work of Portland, Oregon-based singer Sarah O’Shura (on acoustic guitar and vocals), this quiet release is rounded out with electric guitars by musical partner Joshua Canny.
While the components that go into each song are fairly close to the same, this brief release (eight songs, thirty-two minutes) manages to showcase some nice variety and some absolutely gorgeous melodies. “Saltwater Queen” has an aptly sea-faring feel, as urgent vocals and acoustic guitar by O’Shura are punctuated by ghostly ripples of trilling electric guitar. “The Beautiful Ones” adds a touch of hand percussion, some backing vocals, and a few strums of banjo, and the open-air track (which has the thick reverb of a big room) plays off some slight timing shifts that only help build its intensity
Another of the true standouts of the release is the stunning cover of “Harden My Heart.” Originally a Pat Benetar-esque cheesy 80s track, it’s turned into a flat-out devastating piece that moves at a slow core pace but buckles with swoons of heavily-reverbed guitar and what are probably the best vocals from O’Shura on the entire album. With songs like “I Built The Sea,” and “You Are A Sailor” (in addition to the aforementioned album-opener), it seems that the latter part of the groups namesake is winning the battle on this debut release. These are woozy, home-studio folk tracks that sway with a tinge of country, and that’s not a bad thing. On the few tracks where the group adds even more wrinkles to their sound, they get even more exciting, but this short debut is definitely a nice introduction.
“The Beautiful Ones”
“The Beautiful Ones,” from L.A.-based duo The Battle of Land and Sea, is the kind of mournful, acoustic lullaby that hip emo kids enjoy crying over. The layered vocal harmonies and subtle stringed instruments add a sinister, at at times religious feel to the composition, which comes from the band’s self-titled debut.
DiScover: The Battle of Land and Sea
Their music is the sound of the water. They play quiet, folk songs telling stories of love and the sea and their album sounds as if it was recorded onto a tape recorder on a boat in the middle of the ocean.
Hailing from Portland, Oregon, they’re an act comprising of two halves – Sarah O’Shura (vocals and acoustic guitar) and Joshua Canny (electric guitar, banjo). Their partnership is comparable to that of Mazzy Star’s – Hope Sandoval the voice, and Dave Roback providing the atmospheric backing. Their music, too, evokes the sound of Among My Swan-era Mazzy Star when they bring out the echoed electric guitar, or Cat Power in her better days. Maybe, at certain points in their songs, you could even say they sound like Cocteau Twins if they’d stripped their music of the effects and made an acoustic record. Folk music has a habit of restricting itself to the summer and autumn seasons, but this suits both sun-beaten days and long winter nights. It’s dark, sparse, intimate, and brilliant.
They are, by a considerable margin, one of the best bands this writer has found from across the Atlantic of late, and their self-titled debut album is out on Notenuf Records from January 15 (review). As debut albums go, it sounds stunning. So without further ado, please welcome The Battle of Land and Sea.
Your sound is quite unique, but who has influenced your songs? I hear shades of Mazzy Star and other psychedelic bands in there.
Sarah: Influences are so vast, but for me what’s most influential is how a record sounds, the feel of a record can transport you to a different time and place. That’s what we were going for on this record, a warm nostalgia. I can’t put a finger on it exactly but there is a sound that certain records have that just grabs me and makes me want to listen to them a hundred times over. Midlake’s The Trails of Van Occupanther has it, so does Iron and Wine, Mt. Egypt, Hope Sandoval’s Bavarian Fruit Bread, and nothing can beat that old jazz record sound. I listen mostly to jazz and classical while in the car alone. The psychedelic side definitely intrigues me and it’s something that during the recording process I’d like explore more, I am definitely a child of the ‘70s. Jacob Golden, who produced this record, has such a good ear for bringing out all those little nuances and for capturing the magic of a performance, it’s not about a take being perfect, it’s the vibe for me that translates onto record. I have a hard time stating specific influences because I am really not sure of those myself; I have a strong opinion of what sound I like and dislike and that’s been very helpful in getting a sound that I’m pleased with.
The band has a DIY aesthetic with the self-booked living room shows, handmade merchandise et al. Was this a conscious decision to do it all alone, or just something that got going and never stopped?
I just got tired of waiting around, and a lot of bands I think suffer from that too. Getting signed isn’t the pot of gold at the end of the rainbow, it’s the beginning. I just realised that if I worked hard at getting the music out there and started living a more creative musical life everyday that nothing unfavourable would come from that, before anyone else was involved. I wanted to incorporate what I love to do in my free time into my musical life more, it saved me. Screen printing in the living room, sewing endless CD sleeves while watching television: I love doing it and the satisfaction is unbeatable… though I need a basement now. I’m done with having my living room look like a sweat shop! It was a conscious decision in the beginning to do it all alone, I like having the creative control and when I see an artist whose work I admire I have no problem utilising their talents to further my vision. That was the case for the cover of this record. I was on the hunt for an artist and I stumbled across the wonderful artist Mel Kadel. I fell in love with her style and I liked that her illustrations are both whimsical and dark, that’s how I view the music so it’s a good fit.
From the band name right through to the lyrics and artwork, the sea is a recurring theme. What is your relationship with the water?
My first memories were in Hawaii, where I lived until I was six years old. Not many kids get the chance to learn how to swim in the ocean, and I’m grateful for that. I’ve always loved the sea, the feeling of being on the shore and being really enamoured with what is out there beyond what you can see, it’s romantic and imaginary. In my mind the ships are old and wooden like in the old days, sailors at sea with their wives at home pining and counting the days until their love returns safely. I love that pull of energy you get from being near the ocean, too – it puts life in perspective and it’s inspiring, as we are so small in this world.
You’re signed to the rather great Notenuf Records. How did this come about? Did you find them or did they find you?
Sort of both, actually. I worked with Steph, one of the head honchos at Notenuf, through my previous job and we became friends, though we’ve yet to meet in person. They didn’t have any folk acts on their roster, so I never really thought of it as an option; I was just sending a friend a CD. She was giving me some ideas of labels to send it to. I think she thought I was looking for a big indie fish of a label, which I wasn’t necessarily. I just wanted a musical home that I could be really hands-on with and get our music out there to able listening ears. When the idea for Notenuf to put it out came up I got really excited and it just clicked that this is perfect. It’s a good match – our creative thinking is very on par with what Notenuf does, that’s the key. I like that it’s a new direction for them.
There are two of you in the band – how does the songwriting work?
I write the songs. I’m not very prolific, though, so it can be months before anything new crops up. But then, bang: there are two new songs! I’m patient with it, though I tend to be very circumstantial with ‘writing time’, so I’m my worst enemy because there can’t be anyone in the house, I can’t have neighbours listening in, there can’t be dishes in the sink, I prefer an overcast day… Seriously, all my writing happens in the colder months. I think Portland will be good for my writing. This band began as a ‘musical project’ and I wanted to have a rotating cast of people to play on the records and play with live. So for this record it was me bringing the songs to Josh and us sharing a bottle of wine and having the accompanying guitar evolve until we’re satisfied; sometimes it took a few hours and things just clicked, and other songs took months to become more realised. For a lot of the songs I’ve roughly recorded them on a 4-track or my laptop first before anyone hears them, which helps tremendously for me. The direction of the song is clearer and when it’s time to record we can experiment and build from there.
The reception to the tracks on your MySpace has been great – hundreds of positive comments. Does the use of the internet help you get attention from people, considering your only other release was a small run of your self-made mini-album?
Definitely, the internet gave us such an opportunity which ten years ago wouldn’t have been there. With our mini-album, we sold copies to people as far as Thailand, Japan, Brazil, Iceland, Turkey and Russia. That would’ve never happened without the good ol’ World Wide Web. It’s encouraging and it’s great for indie bands; it takes the DIY movement to a whole new level.
Are you worried that you’ll be lumped in with the freak-folk ‘movement’, or perhaps worse, New Weird America? After all, journalists are known to be lazy, and Joshua is bearded!
Good lord I never even thought of that. I really love some of those artists but I don’t think of us as ‘quirky’ enough… though I could be wrong. We sit in a strange place I think, being a bit quiet and having a more straight-to-tape kind of sound definitely doesn’t grab the greater percentage of people right away. I definitely think that the success of Iron and Wine has opened people’s ears a bit more for us – thank you Sam Beam. I’m not worried of being lumped into the freak-folk or other genres, as I have no control over what journalists say or label us as… so no worrying here, though it’s interesting. I’m happy to be a bit left of centre, so wherever that is, so be it.
The debut album is out on January 15, but what are your plans after the release? Touring, I suppose? World domination?
Touring for sure. We are planning to tour the UK in early 2008. I spent almost half of 2007 in England this year, driving Jacob around on his UK tours, and now I’m eager to get my own music heard. I think the UK is a great place for more mellow bands, and we’ve had a good reception so far. I’d like to tour a lot overseas. As for stateside, we’ll be touring over here as well, hitting the major cities first then building upon that. It’s a big country so lots of places to play.
- Ben Yates
“I Built The Sea” 7.0
The Battle Of Land And Sea’s eponymous EP (re-released on the Notenuf label with two new tracks added to the previous, self-released version’s six) consists of female voice and agile solo guitar (Sara O’Shura and Joshua Canny, respectively) recorded in a dark, empty room, or maybe a dumpster—metallic, echoing, but clear enough. A nomadic, monadic sound, of purposeful wandering and private but palpable purpose, of figures moving behind a curtain, but with no hesitation. Isolation is necessary, mystery, too, but so is an audience, a witness and sometimes a driver.
A “Saltwater Queen” stands over the bed of a boy who’s pining for her; the narrator of “Birdsong” testifies to being an 11-year-old girl, pursued by someone who has promised terrible things. This is who she’s talking to: How much of this is a memory and from how far back? No matter, it’s all present and accounted for—right up to the jump cut to where “The Beautiful Ones” are gathering, rallying on the shore, about to turn “our backs to the cold wind” and depart. O’Shura almost sounds like Jewel here, but the slightly querulous, princess-y pitch of the chorus turns stern, bitter, determined. Regal enough, with reasons enough (and yeah, beautiful enough).
Which makes the next track, a cover of Quarterflash’s “Harden My Heart,” seem redundant at first, at least as an idea (and after the quick-change artistry of the first three songs, is the Battle getting quagmired already?) But this version is much slower than the original, as the singer almost seems to lose her resolve, as if she’s going to slip into merely sensitive, quivering, sub-Tori Amos mode—then the guitar does some deeper brooding, just enough, and the voice bears its bruises and its tears into the chorus, where they get quietly hardened into armor. But the “armor” is just there to be implied, and felt: There’s no olden-tymes/acid folke “Beautiful Ones” aspect to Quarterflash’s song as Marv Ross wrote it (nor as the Battle Of Land And Sea perform it, sans the original arrangement’s Big ’80s glitz) Yet, armor is armor… It’s not a better song than O’Shura’s originals, but the relatively “normal” linearity of it, and especially the struggle in this new performance, somehow add depth or shading to the map, as revealed so far. (All roads lead to Rome, and this one leads a grateful pop-conditioned nation to receive drops of realness from the wise Saltwater Queen, during one heck of a costume change.)
“Six Days” continues the down-to-earth bit by making it literal: the singer smiles up and across time and space, toward a traveler she’s waiting for. But though the pleasantness of this view is new, she’s not too passive, she notes that “I put you on the plane.” Just a little note of satisfaction in that; all’s right with the world, as in “I Built The Sea.” You built or maybe bought the boat, but she (and the guitar) have that easy, rolling authority, which is just flexing its muscles, riding somebody’s vessel high and low. Something vast is in the air, which is not just that of a princess, or a queen, but a goddess, even, eventually, beyond satisfaction (beyond all emotions little humans can have; maybe beyond all emotions, period) But there’s also some friction in there somewhere, some necessary adjustments. True authority doesn’t have to issue reminders—power does, and power is a utility, from a resource, and even if the latter doesn’t get clogged up (ha ha, who could mess up the sea), the power bill does add up.
(So “Lady” will hold her head high, but carefully, as if it is about to fall off, and she seems to be stumbling alone; then “You Are A Sailor” and she’s a sweet hitchhiker, suggesting terrible things, and suddenly reminding me that the slide guitar in “I Built The Sea” kept easing toward the Doors’ “Moonlight Drive,” the original of which moves as gracefully as the tides of logic, toward a proposed, underwater “surrender to the waiting worlds”—just a little joke planted, even in the apex of Electric Ladytopia!) Yeah boy, it all adds up. Eight tracks high, and rising.
The Battle Of Land And Sea’s Sarah O’Shura on “I Built The Sea”
There’s an implied or at least an inferred storyline to this sequence of tracks. Was “I Built The Sea” written with a song cycle in mind?
Definitely. It was the first song that was written for this project. I was quite inspired by the band name and I wanted to write some songs that had a thread, and express my story infused with a bit of folklore.
Did the song seem to emerge all at once, or did you have some ideas in mind, with a certain moment or experience that provided a tipping point?
Both, actually. The song is about judgmental, short-sighted people that underestimate and begrudge me and my creativity. “I built the sea and not the boat you’re in.” If I and this other kind of person were sitting in a boat and I told them this is mine, I created this, they would assume I was talking of the boat, when really I’m speaking of something much greater than that: the surrounding sea, I built the sea.
Did words and music arrive together, or if not, which came first?
They did arrive together. I woke up and decided that I was going to write and record a song about what was going on in my life right then, a musical snapshot. I had a few days off work, my boyfriend was out of town recording his record and I was brimming with creativity. I wrote two songs on the record in those couple of days.
Was it written with any mythological aspects in mind?
Not specifically, I just wanted to tell a story within a story…
- Don Allred
Of all the geographical features to inspire music, the ocean must be largely concurrent with good music. From Dirty Three with Ocean Songs, and now to The Battle of Land and Sea – the ocean is rendered beautifully in musical form. On their debut album, the aptly named duo delves into a set of delicate, sea-inspired folk songs that fits neatly between the voice of Cat Power and the guitar work of Mazzy Star.
Sarah O’Shura, the chief songwriter in the American duo, paints a mysterious figure. Her voice is intimately quiet; her lyrics weaved by stories of her past. The verses drip with dark melancholy, somewhat out of place on a record imbued with summery guitar tones. You’ll only notice its dark undercurrent if you’re paying close attention though, and it’s evidence of the dreaminess on The Battle of Land and Sea’s debut that the tracks segue into one another with little fanfare. It’s an easy, pleasing listen that confines itself to whispers and hushes. Sometimes it’s a little too quiet – the softened tones and quiet finger-picking on album closer ‘You Are A Sailor’ wash over with very little effect. Those with low attention spans won’t find much to enjoy in this record.
The many facets of this record may be marked by darker themes, but ignore its lyrical content and you’d never know. There’s nothing gloomy about ‘Saltwater Queen’ – a song that sounds made for perfect sunny days at the coast, and the warm, endless summer nights. The echoed slide guitar that sidelines this and most of the other tracks on this record lifts it from being just another American folk album – it’s an amazing inclusion that gives the album its musical ingenuity and gives Sarah’s story its paper to write on.
I can imagine finding this record abandoned in some charity shop, a 50p relic in an array of other forgotten ‘60s folk albums. Modern production aside, it would be easy to believe that this was recorded 40 years ago – such is its non-reliance on modern musical trends. It’s also easy to imagine the duo wrote the album while stranded on a lonely island off the coast of America, with only their guitars and their memories for company. The result: an album of blissful folk music and mysterious lyrical lamentations; an album, then, truly worthy of the tape it’s been recorded on.
- Ben Yates
“Saltwater Queen” 7.0
On YouTube, there’s a video of Sarah O’Shura, a.k.a. Portland’s the Battle of Land and Sea. She explains that “Saltwater Queen”‘s lyrics are based on a book she read and loved, though she can’t remember its title or plot, really. Wrapped inside the song’s narcotic slide guitar and minor-key arpeggios, then, there’s a story that only breaks the surface in fragments. O’Shura’s voice drifts along, so high and feminine that her words disperse before they make it to your ear. As a singer she takes her place alongside the weird myths of the ocean and femininity, monsters all, or, like T.S. Eliot’s mermaids, tempting specks in the distance. Or maybe more like the Little Mermaid, who’s got a great set of pipes but can’t use them. O’Shura’s enigmatic song may simply serve as a warm, pulsing surface onto which she projects whatever fragments of story she can dredge up, leaving the whole submerged and unknowable.
- Jessica Suarez
The Battle of Land and Sea’s The Battle of Land and Sea
Sly, dark folkies harden their hearts, soften yours
You could go broke betting against the wispy, ethereal female voice in indie rock. It comes back around again and again, and Sarah O’Shura, the singer-songwriter who heads up Portland psychedelic-folk duo the Battle of Land and Sea, is the latest example—a particularly fetching one at that, as she conjures up treasure chests of ache and longing with her warbles. With guitarist Joshua Canny, she crafts a bare-bones sound— the acoustic guitar in “Saltwater Queen,” backed by a ghostly metallic whoosh and clank, is a prime example—that’s precise, smart, and anything but slight. Though this short album flags at the end, the songs have sturdy structures that withstand repeated plays: The spaghetti-western guitar that crops up on “Birdsong” and the banjo that props up the lovely lilt of “The Beautiful Ones” are thoughtful and durable surprises.
The duo’s sleepytime beauty will result in a raft of Mazzy Star comparisons, but when O’Shura turns Quarterflash’s hit “Harden My Heart” into a passive- aggressive cry, she recalls the way the Cowboy Junkies hijacked “Sweet Jane” ages ago. Here, the plaintive lyrics serve O’Shura well, especially when compared to her own slippery, impressionistic verses. With a voice and a sonic signature that evokes dark forests and lost worlds, the singer has, with a single album, established herself as another sly force not to bet against.
- Werner Trieschmann
spin artist of the day (dec 11th)
Who? The Battle of Land and Sea began as a collection of four-track home recordings by singer/songwriter Sarah O’Shura during an inspired weekend in early 2006. After enlisting the help of longtime collaborator Joshua Canny — the two began playing together seven years ago when O’Shura met the former metal axeman at her second gig — the duo recorded a handful of songs for a self-released EP that landed them a featured artist slot on MySpace and a deal with Austin-based label, Notenuf; their self-titled studio full-length arrives Jan. 15.
What’s the Deal? O’Shura’s lonesome melodies combine the dreamy melancholy of Mazzy Star with the smoky sway of Cat Power and the wintry folk of Maria Taylor while Canny’s sparse, atmospheric guitar leads — which sound like they’re being played underwater — shimmer behind mournful tales of separation and loss, often centered around, appropriately, the sea. Backed by little more than guitar and the occasional tambourine and banjo, haunting tracks like “Six Days,” the reverb heavy “You Are a Sailor,” and the album’s catchiest offering “The Beautiful Ones” induce a reflective nostalgia that make you want to call your ex.
Fun Fact: O’Shura has a little secret about the recording of The Battle of Land and Sea. “I like to imagine people listening to the record and them not having a clue that I recorded part of it nude,” O’Shura tells SPIN.com “I’m not telling which songs though.”
- Dane Smith
Damn Los Angeles folk, moving here and taking all the good jobs. In this case it’s the Battle of Land and Sea, the homespun folk duo recently relocated to Portland, and next thing you know, the band signs to hip up-and-coming label (home of the spectacular A Sunny Day in Glasgow). Until we build a wall around our city to keep talented indie artists out, let us embrace the sweet melancholy sounds of the Land and Sea, just as long as they join us former transplants in placing all our blame on the state to the south.