11 Oct 2016

The 11th Sky by Electric Wire Hustle

From The Sampler, 7:30 pm on 11 October 2016
Electric Wire Hustle

Electric Wire Hustle Photo: Supplied

Nick Bollinger traces the latest steps in the sonic and spiritual journey of Wellington's Electric Wire Hustle.

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Listening to the music Electric Wire Hustle have made over the past few years is like following a journey. It’s a journey towards a goal, one that gets closer each time, though we never quite arrive.

That yearning for some goal just out of reach is embodied in this group’s one consistent feature: the voice of Mara TK. And it is in full effect in ‘Go Slow’, the opening track on The 11th Sky, with its aching vocal and percussive sounds suggesting some pre-European Pacific.

If you were to give a name to that yearning you might find a clue in the title. It comes from Maori mythology, in which there are traditionally twelve skies, or heavens, with the supreme spiritual power residing in the highest of these. But though reaching that farthest sky might be the goal, many of these songs concern themselves with the trials of life in the earthly realm.

Electric Wire Hustle’s journey has, among other things, involved a gradual process of refining and stripping away. It is a process that has literally seen the group reduced since their first album, from a trio to a duo and now, essentially, to the solo project of Mara TK. And if the beats and synthscapes are now, more than ever, just a bed for his multi-layered vocals, there are times when even these recede. A track like ‘The Border’ is a cappella, except for the ancient rattle of what might be traditional Maori percussion echoing through digital space.

But by becoming more or less a solo project, Electric Wire Hustle now affords Mara TK the freedom to bring in fresh collaborators where needed. There’s harpist Natalia Mann, who scatters delicate notes through the track ‘Golden Ladder’, and Mahuia Bridgeman-Cooper, whose strings provide an outstanding climax to ‘I Light A Candle.’ And for ‘March’, the album’s penultimate track, Mara hands the microphone over entirely to Deva Mahal for a soulful tour-de-force.

In between these cameos are songs marking the steps of a solitary journey. As the title tells us, the goal is a mystical, elusive one. And yet the journey itself is so compelling, and so intrinsically human, and described in such deep and soulful ways, I find I’m hardly thinking about the destination.

Songs featured: Go Slow, Golden Ladder, The Border, I Light A Candle, March.

The 11th Sky is available on Loop Recordings.