In the field of art criticism, it’s often too easy to condemn a piece of work – in all its unvarnished emotional sincerity – as “pretentious”. As appropriate as it may seem, the term is often used as a pre-emptive dismissal of perceived eccentricity or “weirdness” that speaks more to the self-conscious philistinism of the critic rather than the abstract nature of a piece of art. To put it bluntly, it’s easier to talk shit than to explain to your friends why you thought that expressionist film of a young Bruno Tonioli milking a paper-mache giraffe to the tune of Van Halen’s Jump was actually quite cool.
The reason for this treatise on pretentiousness is the arrival of Antipodean-born, Brighton-based singer-songwriter Maple Glider (real name Tori Zeitsch)’s quietly enthralling, haunting debut album To Enjoy Is The Only Thing, with which she both indulges in and subverts – and whose title smartly rejects – such over-used criticisms. Zeitch swoons and whispers her way across nine tracks of lo-fi acoustic modern folk, interweaving a breathy, eggshell-delicate style reminiscent of Julia Jacklin and Laura Marling with an unexpected touch of Lana Del Ray’s smoky, menacing Hollywood cool. Luckily, there is also a keenly observed intimacy that gives an emotionally devastating substance to the lyrics; a refreshing portion of dark humour and honest introspection which more than makes up for the occasional stylistic over-indulgence in whimsy.
Singles Friend and Swimming reside at opposite ends of Maple Glider’s stylistic boundaries; the former a touching, hopeful but unflinchingly honest rumination on platonic love with a fingerpicked accompaniment with strong shades of Simon & Garfunkel, the latter a haunted glimpse into the conflicted last days of a disintegrating relationship. Both, however, communicate a deep understanding of both the fallible, inconsistent fragility of human interaction and the knack for writing a memorable chorus. Similarly, View From This Side and Good Thing further showcase Zeitsch’s ethereal vocals and uncanny ability to wring every last ounce of feeling from the barest of instrumental threads. By far the absolute masterstroke of the album however, is closing track Mama It’s Christmas – a heart-breaking, first-person account of a missing sibling and the many conflicting facets of unconditional familial love.
With five out of its nine tracks enjoying single releases, To Enjoy Is The Only Thing is also complemented by a well-realised visual portfolio of music videos whose grainy, handheld home-movie feel and dreamy use of both the banal and the abstract take their cues from David Lynch as much as Terrence Malick. This tapestry of warm domestic scenes, gaudy pink cowboy hats, cat videos, nostalgic childhood birthday parties and unlikely human/skeleton romances is at times morbidly funny, hypnotic and gives Zeitsch’s bittersweet themes of loss, religious repression and failing relationships a welcome extra dimension.
Zeitch has said of the album: “This is what the album looks like to me: walking past tinsel covered trees in mid-September, swimming along the calanques in the south of France, car-bonnet frost… the perpetual grey fog that swallows the Silver Coast, the colour red, this ugly green dress, red wine, red blood, red lips, red is the colour of the cardinal’s robe, Switzerland, my mother’s diaries…” On the surface, this rather over-subscribed tone poem falls victim to all the most conceited self-indulgences in the book (“How now, brown bureaucrats!?”). Instead, Maple Glider’s unquestionable command of her medium and audacious outpouring of unabashed emotional fragility mark her out as a formidable new voice on the alt-folk scene. So put aside your crippling self-consciousness, dust off that old harp in the shed and find yourself a moonlit clearing in which to twirl and gesticulate with your favourite billowy handkerchiefs. Ultimately, it doesn’t matter if your album notes sound like Spinal Tap’s Guide to Beat Poetry, because in the end, To Enjoy Is The Only Thing.