MC & The 7 Pedals: Gluten Free – Album Review

MC1

MC & The 7 Pedals 

Gluten Free – album 

Valentine Records 

OUT TODAY

The debut album from MC & The 7 Pedals may be called ‘Gluten Free’ but it’s certainly got guts to it – in the best possible way. It combines the talents of the award-winning Maria-Christina (stage name MC) and her 7 pedals – an enormous electro-acoustic harp, that is – proving that harp music is so much more than the sweet melodies it is so often stereotyped for. Louder Than War’s Emily Oldfield had a listen…

MC has previously performed on Later with Jools Holland, at the BBC Radio 1 studios and at the Montreal Jazz Festival – but now her debut album shows her displaying ‘the dark side of the harp’ (the previous working title of the album) in a whole new dimension, so to speak, exposing the creative and captivating qualities of the instrument like you may never have heard it before.

Gluten Free is a sublime collection of cutting-edge modern harp compositions, recorded in the haunting acoustic space of an abandoned church in Oxford, capturing a sense of space and taking us on new listening journeys. Louder Than War also previously interviewed MC about her work here.

‘Urgent and immersive soundscape…’

The track ‘Gluten Free’ opens with a trickling melody quickly dipped with layers of depth, gaining momentum like a pack of animals propelled on the prowl. A rousing rhythm of beats and hand claps creates tactile, urgent and immersive soundscape – something which lured me into the album from the onset.

‘Taximi’ follows with an almost Eastern-inspired intro, as a series of well-worked notes peel off in a poignant trill of sound which reaches skin prickling heights. This is minimal piece which works well, a contrast from the creative carnival of ‘Gluten Free’ and gearing the audience to fine-tune their listening capability ready for the following track of ‘In The Basement’.

‘In The Basement’ is a much longer piece than the previous two at just under five minutes and is a dwelling, deftly constructed piece. It begins with reminiscent notes which still maintain a progressive rhythm, unwrapping slightly dystopic, distorted twists of sound as the track unfolds, thickened with a shaking beat. Proving that the harp has heart, and a hot and twisted one at that.

‘Plunging and pouring with hypnotic trills of harp…’

Developments into darkness continue with what is one of the stand-out sections of the album ‘Little Slaughtered Lamb’. MC herself describes it as “provoked artistically by the meat industry and over consumption”, the track plunging and pouring with hypnotic trills of harp before almost scissoring sounds and rounds of drums build it to an almost hysterical height. It’s brilliantly intense, exposing a cruel underside through a series of strings.

‘Dusty Puppet’ follows with a much more mellow contrast, slowly sashaying notes which lure the listener in – picking and pondering over her method of playing. Every so often there will be notes wMC2hich hit heady heights or dwelling depths, highlighting an enjoyable exploratory listen which flickers to full burst before a reflective fade-out. An instrumental ideal for sitting and reflecting with.

‘A talent for meaningful – not meandering – elaboration’

Then there appears a more personal trio of tracks late into the album, showing MC’s stamina as an artist, with a talent for meaningful – not meandering – elaboration. ‘Mother in Law’ is a lengthy relation – in more ways than one. It is a track buoyed by a booming note, with dwelling daubs of hot, heavy harp over the top – constructing a relationship with the listener over a dark listening journey lasting impressively at just over 12 minutes.

There is sound of turbulence underneath which develops into driving, desperate surges of sound – in a track which starts off low and leaps up to utter intensity, as if tracking the course of progression of personal emotion. Yet it still manages to be engaging in its intrigue rather than alienating, thanks to fluctuating yet ever-present rhythm part.

‘Seems drawn from the threads of thought on the edge of a dark dream’

Personal and erotically persuasive – two factors which appear in power behind the next track, ‘Pandora’s Music Box’ – with cracking, hauntingly-spaced bursts of beat and music-box-like, intricately-detailed melodies. The music seems drawn from the threads of thought on the edge of a dark dream, there is something almost Lynchian in its style – as the accompanying music video shows, blending the beastly and the beautiful to brilliant effect. MC highlights that the harp as an instrument is capable of both – perhaps a point she wanted to make in having this as the album’s lead track.

The recently-released video for ‘Pandora’s Music Box’ is also worth mentioning as an experience in itself – an erotically-charged and artful piece which spins the style of Hitchcockian thrillers together with tender reflection, again highlighting MC’s approach as one which doesn’t just navigate an artistic balance, it is buoyed above it.

‘Slowly simmering soundscapes, touching on themes of exploration and intrigue’

But whilst the image of a music box may pull us in and pirouette round with our perspectives, later tracks on the album highlight MC’s ability to project the listening experience outwards – with tunes like ‘A Greek in Spain’ a more gentle guide through slowly simmering soundscapes, touching on themes of exploration and intrigue.

Perhaps the most surprising track on the album is ‘Bubbles’, with a notably upbeat edge and shimmering, playful trills of notes – bolstered by a steady rhythm which shows the harp can hold its traditional positive appeal, but in a powerful way. MC has also performed live for the popular Sofar Sounds project in Athens, with which she is involved.

Gluten Free is the sound of a spellbinding new artist, letting you listen to a series of strings in whole new way. If you think harp is a classically-curtailed instrument, you will invited, enticed and intrigued into realising otherwise.

MC is herself currently undertaking her PhD on contemporary / modern harp – doing ever-intriguing things with 7 pedals, with the album released on Manchester’s Valentine Records and available now.

Hear the harp not just in a whole new light, but go on an utterly unique listening journey. Highly recommended.

Photo credit: Photo 1 – Alex Adam, Photo 2 – Christina Jansen

To find out more about ‘MC & The 7 Pedals’ she has a website, is on Facebook, Soundcloud and also the Valentine Records website. She will also be celebrating the launch of her album with a gig in the Manchester area at Fuel Café Bar, Withington on Sunday 1st October. More details here. 

Words by Emily Oldfield. You can find more at her Louder Than War Author’s Archive and she is also on Twitter as @EmilyvOldfield

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