Album Review: 17 Hippies, Phantom Songs

By Graham Reid

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Album cover for 'Phantom Songs' by 17 Hippies. Photo / Supplied
Album cover for 'Phantom Songs' by 17 Hippies. Photo / Supplied

Not the most promising band name in these tougher times, but this multi-lingual German neo-folk outfit (which played Taranaki's Womad this year) don't go the 20-minute guitar solo route, but rather their name reflects their origins in a Berlin squat and their collective mentality. With horns, banjo, ukulele, violin, etc they can move from oddball gypsy folk (Biese Bouwe/Bad Boys), to light la-la-la French pop (Jolie Filles) and from minimalist Leonard Cohen-like balladry (the dark dream of Across the Waters) into cabaret blues (the dramatic Gimme Dat Harp Boy and eerily whispered Dorn) and poetic reflection (the quiet Blumen im glas/Flowers in a Glass with its strange Orientalism).

With lyrics in translation there's some humour here too: Bad Boys bears no relation to that real-life cop show theme but rather says bad boys upset cows, pick their noses and get in a punch-up at the village fair. But mostly this explores the frontiers of folk and creates a coherent vision where European history and sensibilities come together in a nightclub and lyrics convey strange snapshot moments (Madchen im gluck/Girls in Luck and the chipper The Train).

Although something may be lost in translation (and the instrumental Singapore sounds located in Morocco) this works on many levels, especially in the more intimate material where at least a dozen of the hippies take a tea break.

Stars: 4/5
Verdict: The sound of the global village from Berlin folk explorers

- TimeOut / elsewhere.co.nz

- NZ Herald

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