Death of the Maiden
The track, His House, is available via:
The album, The Girl with the Secret Fire, is available via:
29th March, 2019
Produced by Tamara Parsons-Baker and Richard Neuberg
Mixed and Engineered by Richard Neuberg
Mastered by Tim Turan
Album Artwork by Millie Rawicz @millierawicz
Recorded at Strawhouse, Oxford (www.strawhousestudios.com)
All songs written by Tamara Parsons-Baker; lyrics for The Walls are Wider and The Love of Phlebas were taken from poems written by Henry Stead
ON this outing...
I wanted to address a few things before I come to look at Death of the Maiden. I will discuss Post-Punk sounds and why there is a definite need for something more explosive in modern music; a little concerning female bands and, again, why they are being under-represented right now; greater visibility and awareness of difference and diversity; variety in music and how songs can grip the imagination – I will address why we need embrace bands like Death of the Maiden. The clocks have just gone forward and my brain is adjusting slightly to that. Waking up this morning, I was readying myself to write about various aspects of music – I have a list that I get through at the weekend – but my thoughts have changed. Although Death of the Maiden have a varied palette and eclectic sound, there is a directness and sense of physicality about their music that gets under the skin. Maybe they are not quite as intense as IDLES or Slaves but, in fact, there is more depth and emotion. They mix Post-Punk, gothic sounds and Pop together to create this sumptuous, dream-like music that takes you somewhere special. Although the sound is less accelerated than a lot of the Post-Punk bands around, their words are what stand out in that sense. There is an immediacy and sense of passion in the songs that swims in the blood. I have heard a lot of bands sacrifice depth and meaning for sheer energy and noise. That is not the case with Death of the Maiden. Tamara Parsons-Baker has spent a few years setting herself up as one of Oxford’s best artists and voices. Having seen off the competition and climbed up the ladder, she set up the band with Emma Coombs (drums), Jenny and Hannah Bruce (on guitar) and, together, they are Death of the Maiden. The Girl with the Secret Fire is an album that boasts the band’s chemistry and core strengths and showcases a wealth of textures.
In a good way, it is hard to describe Death of the Maiden and drilling down to their essence. One thinks about genres like Post-Punk and Baroque-Pop and gets their own impressions. Maybe we feel it is going to be morbid or snarling; too violent or gloomy. That would be short-sighted because, as Death of the Maiden show, there is much more power and resonance when it comes to being subtle and wider-reaching. You unpick their music and it is crammed with scenery, colour and imagination. I said how it is important we promote something physical and intense but, in fact, Death of the Maiden project that in the soul; a more subtle revelation that we need to see more of. I have argued how important it is we encourage range in music and I do think the most interesting stuff is happening away from the mainstream. I am not saying the biggest acts are boring but I do think there is a tendency to fit into some sort of groove and preconceived slot. You sort of wade through everything out there and it can be hard to decipher what actually has any meaning. There are a few bigger acts I really love but most of the more interesting material is coming from the underground. Maybe it is the lack of commercial pressure or the fact the current generation are shaping up to change things. I am seeing more and more artists genres and experiment with sound. I do think a lot of what is in the mainstream appears pretty narrow and flavourless but, with the best of the rising crop, we are seeing a true blossom and feast. Death of the Maiden explore the rawness of Punk and the sense of spirituality one gets with Baroque-Pop. I shall move onto another theme because I want to tackle something that has been on my mind. I do wonder whether some of the problems we see in the wider music world will change and we will see balance.
Whether Death of the Maiden see themselves as a female band or would prefer a gender-fluid label, there is no denying that, compared to some bands, they will struggle for festival bookings. I brought this up yesterday when discussing Glastonbury and its lack of female headliners but, moving forward, I do wonder whether discrimination is just with gender. There is a surge of feminism and need for equality but it is not being met with acclaim and respect by the industry. Many are fighting for parity at festivals and throughout music but I do feel like those in power have been lacking. Look at a group like Death of the Maiden and you have a solid and exciting band that have the promise to last for many years to come. I see so many male bands being given top spots at festivals and made cover stars but what of the female artists? They are, in my mind, producing the best music around and this is not being translated into acclaim and attention. What gets to me is the fact music is a meritocracy and that means the best music should be celebrated. Why is it that, in 2019, we still have the battle sexism and the ignorance of the music industry?! I do find it shocking that bands such as Death of the Maiden might be overlooked because of their gender. They have the promise to be a big deal and will get there soon enough but I do feel like many will hold them back because they are women. I have seen bands like them take longer to get to the top because festivals still have this problem booking women. That might sound gloomy but I know they will get where they need to get to. It might be a while longer until they are at Glastonbury but I do think the industry needs to open its eyes and mind when it comes to talent and not being so blind. If it was more gender-blind and actually judged artists upon their sounds then that would be a lot better.
Tamara Parsons-Baker, when emailing me, stated that Death of the Maiden are trying to be visible women, queers and those who fight for greater rights. I have been seeing a lot of discussion on social media and, whether it is relevant to this point, how many schools are uneasy regarding lessons around L.G.B.T.Q.I.A. issues. It seems that there is still uneasiness when it comes to aspects away from a heteronormative spectrum. Maybe this might not directly relate to music but I think it is important to raise the point. I feel like there is a real uncomfortableness when it comes to talking about sexuality. If bands like Death of the Maiden are determined to create visibility in that respect, is society as a whole going to match that? I find that there are many who feel it is wrong to teach lessons about L.G.B.T.Q.I.A. subjects in schools and it is not fair to foist that onto children. Parents think that it is wrong to instil these lessons at a young age and schools should not stray from more ‘traditional’ subjects regarding sex and gender. I do feel like it is rather absurd we have to have this argument because times have moved on and children need to be educated. It is wrong to ignore the sexual spectrum and, in essence, be discriminative. I am appalled that there is so much prejudice and stupidity today but I do wonder whether music is more open-eyed and aware. I have discussed sexuality in music before and how many L.G.B.T.Q.I.A. artists have to struggle. How easy is it for them to assimilate into the mainstream and discuss their sexuality in a very real and open way? I feel many people want music to be straight and white. They have this vision of normality that is denying passage to artists who just want to be themselves. Music is richer when it is expressive, opens its channels and does not judge artists at all.
Death of the Maiden are unafraid to be themselves but want to create greater awareness and discussion. I am still bothered by the lack of discussion regarding L.G.B.T.Q.I.A. artists and how, in the education system, the syllabus is quite rigid and coming under attack. I will skip to another subject soon but I felt it was worth raising because there are so many different sides to this band. I love what they are putting out and they have such strength. Their music grabs you and sucks you into this imaginative and special world. Sonically, they are exciting and compelling but, as people, there is another side to them. The sense of liberation and being who you are, this is what Death of the Maiden are all about. How far has the industry come since, say, the 1950s? Certainty, sounds have evolved and we are much broader than then but I do think attitudes have not changed. In terms of sexuality and gender, have we moved on at all? I do think that there needs to be more discussion and artists need to be judged on talent and not excluded on the basis of sexuality and gender. Discrimination extends to race, too, so music has a lot of problems that need tackling. When it comes down to it, we need to assess all artists on their potential and talent and strip everything away. Death of the Maiden would not necessarily label themselves as women or see themselves in rather limited terms. They are a fantastic band who warrant acclaim because of their talent and drive. The Girl with the Secret Fire is packed with great music and standout moments. I do hope that this quality and determination leads them to some wonderful places! I will end the review by talking about the band’s touring and potential but things are looking great right now. Reviews are already coming in for their album and there is an awful lot of positivity around them. It is their multifarious and vivid palette that has engaged so many minds.
One listens to songs on their record and there is dreaminess sitting alongside passion. Whether it is a striding piano line or something rawer, there is no denying Death of the Maiden are a rounded and exciting band. I do love how each song has a personality of its own and the band are not beholden to a singular sound. You hear what they are putting out and immerse yourself in the music. There is a subtlety to the playing and performances that mean songs are never too forced or pushy. That is not to say, too, the music is too calm or detached. The band has concocted this great blend that tackles dreams and nightmares alongside pure emotions and a sense of fantasy. In fact, some commentators have stated how Tamara Parsons-Baker is getting something off her chest in the music. There have been striking nightmares that have affected her. Rather than throw these ideas away, she brings them to the music and lets the listeners into her mind. I do think so much of music is based around relationships and matters of the heart and musicians do not really stray too far from that template. Music is at its most promising, enriching and engrossing when more of the artist goes into the music. There is great imagination in the work of Death of the Maiden and this is something others should follow. It is the sonic nimbleness and beauty that one finds that perfectly captures the soul. There is nothing too heavy and dark or anything that is too slight. One can be a fan of Baroque-Pop or Post-Punk and there are no borders at all. Indeed, Death of the Maiden have created an album that will appeal to music lovers of all shapes and sizes. From a purely aesthetic and sonic viewpoint, I can approach Death of the Maiden and find much to enjoy. Every song has its own story and skin and you keep coming back time and time again. One is affected by the compositions and vocals but you also gravitate towards the lyrics. They are never generic and too personal and, instead, there is a richness that sparks every corner of the mind. It is hard to put into words but you need to listen to the music to see what I mean.
Before I come to reviewing one of The Girl with the Secret Fire’s songs, His House, I wanted to stay with this theme of diversity. Like the band’s championing of gender and sex; the need to be seen and how hard it is to fit into a music industry that has this rigid ideal of what one should be, they are not slavish to sounds that are limited and commercial. I am seeing, as I said, many artists in the underground doing great work and Death of the Maiden should be highlighted because of their compositional talents. There is delicate piano and something romantic; militaristic percussion and rousing backdrops – sometimes all within the same song! I do find many artists lack a sophistication and depth but, with Death of the Maiden, every song has multiple layers and angles. The vocal is always at the centre but that is not to say the rest of the band is secondary. Instead, there is a connection and chemistry that infuses them all together and creates this harmony. We need to celebrate bands like Death of the Maiden because they have that special spark and edge. Their music rewards those who take time to digest and experience everything at its fullest. There are personal revelations and dreams being exposed but one never feels excluded or uncomfortable listening to something quite soul-baring. I hope I have not put people off listening to Death of the Maiden with my rambling and detail – I was determined to include them and get their music heard. They are already gathering acclaim but I feel like their future will be very promising. I do feel like a lot of artists who write quite simply and without passion are getting ahead of those who are more intelligent and different. This takes me back to my point regarding equality and acceptance in music and the wider society. It is important I get around to His House and study a song that has a great deal of quality. It is one of the standouts from The Girl with the Secret Fire; an album that is brimming with brilliant moments.
Opening with delicate strings that start to skip and create this wave, our heroine comes to the microphone with her voice ringing clear. The voice is very high in the mix which means that we feel the full force of the emotions playing out. Other songs on The Girl with the Secret Fire burn brighter in terms of compositional weight and instrumentation: the simplicity of the music allows the vocal to explore more but there is still great weight and potency. In fact, the acoustic guitar has this story of its own and I listened to His House a few times and found new stories and revelations coming through. It seems like there is this drama and sadness. Our lead seems to be in a space with stained windows – maybe a church or somewhere else – and her eyes are stained. We come into this house – whether emotional or literal – and hear about the roof coming in and things starting to crumble. The heroine’s hands used to be joined with another and there was this unity that kept her comfortable and safe. Now, it seems like this secure spot and location is being battered by the weather and slipping away. It may sound quite heavy and emotional but, in fact, there is a lot of beauty and tenderness. The vocal has a lot of passion and sadness but there is a sense of hope and focus that keeps it from sounding drained and lost. Backed by these spirited strings, we concentrate on this very evocative scene that seems to represent the heart starting to lose a beat; stability lacking and something transformative happening. This man begged and willed us (whether there is someone with the heroine or just the two of them) to take things outside. Just then, there is a surge of electricity and a new layer coming into the song. There is this sort of nodding to the spectral and religious throughout the song. I get the sense that, at the core, a relationship is being assessed but it almost like His House is a hymn; a prayer or something spiritual.
One cannot escape the transcendent nature of the song and how it makes one feel. Everyone will have their own view regarding the song and its true origins. I feel like some bond has been broken but, in a wider sense, there is something wider being addressed. Parsons-Baker’s voice is clipped and has a distinct accent but it carries so much nimbleness and movement. There are very few singers who can sing as evocatively and purely as her and that is something to be proud of. We see the heroine losing her feet and way; a sense of being directionless or looking for stability. We have this mix of the oblique and direct that takes your thoughts in different directions. The chorus talks about his house as being somewhere secure against the lashes of the storm. Again, whether it is a trusted friends/sweetheart or a church that is keeping the heroine guarded from the outside, I am not so sure. The chorus is powerful and everyone will have their opinions regarding the story and truth. Great songs get you thinking and leave a bit of mystery in the mind. With a voice that rises and summons great power but is also capable of being softer and tenderer, it is a masterful performance. Even if the lyrics become bleak and quite haunted – bones being picked; graves dug and visions of death – one does not necessarily view things literally. Maybe the heroine wants to escape a hard situation and suppression but I think there is a greater need to be rid of a burden and strain. Death of the Maiden are brilliant when it comes to matching darker lyrics with spirited and gorgeous music. It is this blend that makes His House such a memorable song. Our heroine is in the chapel and listening to this song that remains. I do wonder, at every stage, whether the song is a spiritual awakening or something dream-like. It is a powerful offering so one will have their own thoughts regarding its history. There is a mix of grand themes such as God speaking and spiritual reckoning and the more intimate. The heroine has clung onto this raft in an ocean; there have been challenges and you do wonder whether things improved. However one sees it, His House is a remarkable song that will be hard to forget. Each listener will have their own take and visions when it comes to the song. I hope my words got close to the truth of His House but perhaps it is best not knowing everything – keeping a sense of mystery and enigma.
I have talked a lot about Death of the Maiden and how they have progressed. They are a relatively new bands but that is not to say they lack experience and promise. Instead, they have an instant sense of confidence and comfort that suggests they are where they need to be and want to remain for a very long time. There are some great bands coming along right now and I do feel like the scales will tip from the dominance of solo artists to bands. What gets to me is how quality seems to take a backseat to something populist or commercial. I have talked a lot about festivals and their rigidness so I shall leave that be. What I do want to say is that people should judge bands like Death of the Maiden on their musical merit and the fact they are doing something fresh. Check out their social media pages for upcoming dates but the band will be playing at The Finsbury on 12th April. It is worth seeing them in these venues but I feel like larger spaces await them very soon. Death of the Maiden are not purely about the music. They want to give a voice to everyone and stand out in a challenging music industry. It is hard enough being a woman in music and the band know this. I have discussed how festivals tend to overlook women but Death of the Maiden should not fear that. Already, they have proven themselves and created an album that is crammed with delight. The Girl with the Secret Fire is a stunning album that contains ten songs that will stay in your mind for a very long time. It is hard to drill down to the essence of the album and why it is so special. Maybe it is the interplay between the band members of the fact the music is so beautiful and pure.
I love all the different things happening throughout and the fact one can escape in the album. I predict big things for Death of the Maiden and think they have a bright future. It is tough out there but I do not feel the Oxford-based group need to fear anything. I hope I have covered everything and explained myself well enough. It is exciting discovering a band that hit the heart and impress right away. There is so much out there right now and it is always hard to decipher the great from the average. I love Death of the Maiden and know that they will go far. With more tour dates and stage exposure, they will get to more people and attract the attention of radio stations and promoters. I know their music will resonate with a range of stations and who will bet against Death of the Maiden going international and playing big gigs. They have a determination and quality that is hard to fake and ignore. I have stated how it is early still but I think that, in a year or two, they will get to festivals and be playing some really great gigs. They clearly love what they are doing and this funnels into the music. Let me wrap things up now because I am aware I have talked a bit too much. Make sure you investigate Death of the Maiden and follow their progress. They are busy promoting their music right now and, with a great album out, many people will be experiencing them for the first time. In a world where there is a lot of the same thing being played, it is nice discovering an act that are unique and capture you straight away. One can listen to their music and feel better and, in these tough times, that is what we need. They go even further than that and can open your mind and make you think. Albums and artists that challenge the imagination and enrich you should be promoted above that which is straightforward and radio-friendly. I will leave things there but make sure you see Death of the Maiden play; follow them across social media and check out their album on Spotify. If you can, give them some pennies and throw some love their way. Things might just be getting underway but we will see a lot more from this band. They are truly...
A force to be reckoned with.
Follow Death of the Maiden