Rob Smith Can’t Say No: Mahri Autumn

Written by Music, Rob Smith Can't Say No

Rob Smith Can’t Say No to the haunting music of Australian singer/songwriter Mahri Autumn.

Have you ever heard the Waterboys’ song “Silent Fellowship?” It comes from the band’s 2003 album Universal Hall, an overtly spiritual record that ditches the anthems for which the group—or, more accurately, its leader, Mike Scott—is best known, in favor of quiet, layered, meditative songs. I think it’s one of their best records, due in large part to Scott’s recognition of the quiet power of simplicity and the cumulative effect of repetition.

“Silent Fellowship” contains one verse—four short lines—repeated over and over for five minutes:

In the silent fellowship
In the silence we sit
In the morning gold
In the morning gold

Scott sings the lines with elongated phrasing, which creates a hypnotic effect, particularly when mixed with the organ, guitar, and percussion pulsing behind his voice. The imagery conjures a sunrise, that most beautiful and welcoming of nature’s greetings, a majesty for which the only true appreciative response is silence. The song is meditative and powerful, its magic emanating from its utter simplicity.

I recently exchanged emails with the Australian singer/songwriter/artist Marianthe Loucataris, who performs under the name Mahri Autumn. She relayed to me a wonderful story about a correspondence she struck up with Mike Scott when she was a teen (she has since posted the story here), and his influence has obviously stuck with her.

While I’m not certain if Autumn has heard “Silent Fellowship,” she achieves a similar effect on the song “Skin,” which hails from her debut record ri-solv. As an accordion drone dances with gently played guitar and piano behind her, Autumn draws out the lyrics in a manner similar to Scott’s in “Silent Fellowship,” with similar results:

You need your own skin
So you can separate yourself
From me
You need your own skin
So you can separate yourself
From the cold winds

You need your own skin
So you can be free
Of living inside me
Free of living
In my head

The abstraction of the lyrics combines with the languid melodies that waft in from the ether to create a rather warm, compelling soundscape.

“High Time,” which kicks off the record, is likewise atmospheric and gripping, with its acoustic guitar and keyboard base and layers of vocal harmony. By the time the percussion enters (about two and a half minutes into the song), the full complement of countermelodies at work become apparent, molded as they are to Autumn’s quivering but strong voice. The song “All,” as well, has an interesting undercurrent of percussion beneath a descending guitar figure, both of which support the song’s call for tolerance.

Autumn uses the studio as an instrument unto itself, and there are some choices she makes that could, with lesser material, be problematic. On “Resonate,” for example, the echo effect on many of the instruments and voices becomes a bit much. Yet, in the spacey thickness of the song—where virtually no open space exists—there’s an intimacy in her vocal when she sings:

Let me in
To the frequencies
That dance in your mind
Trembling down your spine

The voice cuts through on the track “Angel.” When she sings “Summertime is a good time for love,” Autumn sounds closer somehow—you can almost hear her forming the words before they’re sung. You can also hear the bass, bubbling just under the hypnotic main current of the song, providing another stream for your ear to follow. It’s a lovely song—one that deserves to reach a wider audience through some means.

While she has room to grow, Mahri Autumn has created a thing of beauty in ri-solv, and I thank her for sharing her music with me. You can listen to a stream of ri-solv on Autumn’s Audio Narcissist site, where you can purchase a download of the record on a pay-what-you-want basis. The album is also available on iTunes and CD Baby.