Brumalia is an EP assembled around ‘Together,’ which Patrick said made him want to make an “inner city winter months story record." Much as Lupercalia was named after a lupine festival of love, and Lemuralia (the odds’n’ends EP) was named for the festival where ghosts of the dead were exorcised from haunted homes, Brumalia is named for the Roman celebration of the year’s shortest day. In keeping with its winter theme, the songs on Brumalia are slightly heavier emotionally than those on its sister album, but there’s an undertone of hope in keeping with Patrick’s newfound peaceful temperament.
Having finally exhausted all possibilities for songs about wolves, with ‘Bitten’ (lyrics) Patrick has capitalized on the werewolf vs. vampire moment society is currently in and written a song about vampires.
No. I’m not serious. Although, he does draw on imagery and characters from Dracula in order to paint a picture of self-destruction and addiction. But where Patrick’s own descent into the abyss on The Bachelor was a picture of despair, ‘Bitten’ is an offer of support. In between the verses, Patrick takes on Tilda’s former role as the Voice of Hope, encouraging, “Don’t give up now.” The chorus, meanwhile, reminds its subject, “You’re still yours.” In a sense, ‘Bitten’ brings Patrick’s music career full circle; it’s the first recording on which he’s played theremin since his days in Minty. ‘Bitten’, and Brumalia, opens with Patrick’s Argentinian friend Sol whispering the phrase nunca se olvida que siempre vida, which could function either as Lucy’s epitaph - Never forgotten. Always alive. - or the maxim embodied by the EP - Never forget that you are alive.
‘Time of Year' (lyrics) is Patrick’s long-awaited attempt at a Christmas single, basically. (It wasn’t released as a single, but the Brumalia EP was, so let’s not quibble.) In typical Patrick style, it’s somewhat contrarian, focusing not on those present for festivities but on those absent - family and friends overseas in the military. The anti-war statements:
What frankincense or myrrh do they seek To send our soldiers to those burning sands? How many crosses more must we stigmata our soil with Until we reveal the blood on our hands?
are a little on-the-nose (but not as clumsy as those from The Bachelor's 'Count of Casualty'), but the sentiment is certainly endearing enough, and the continued presence of saxophone in the midst of a big orchestrated number is a joy. In his description of the EP, Patrick announced:
I would guess this is the last big orchestral pop production song I think I will do for a while… After this EP I’m already hungry to change everything up again, draw a line under the last 10 years of work and start some reinvention.
- Patrick Wolf, Stereoboard.com, November 30, 2011 (source)
Given his poor track record recently of sticking with his future musical plans, I wouldn’t necessarily believe him, but if this is the last we hear from hi-fi pop Wolf for a while, don’t say he didn’t warn you.
It wouldn’t be a proper Patrick Wolf not-quite-a-Christmas-EP without some sort of a carol, especially given his tradition of recording or reworking traditional folk songs and English poetry (see: Idumea, The Hazelwood, Augustin, The Bachelor, Armistice). So of all the hymns to pick, of course he would cover ‘Jerusalem' (lyrics). The text is a poem by William Blake that was set to music in the early 20th century, and uses its religious subject matter to celebrate the pastoral (“England’s mountains green”, “England’s pleasant pastures”) and criticize The City and industry (“Was Jerusalem built here, among these dark Satanic mills?”). And if we’re talking “bow of burning gold” and “arrows of desire,” may I direct your attention to this picture, c. The Bachelor?
It’s a gorgeous melody, and it lets Patrick really work the lower range of his vocals, before letting him climb further up the octaves in the song’s latter half.
The only problem is that, due to a childhood filled with Monty Python’s Flying Circus, my only previous context for ‘Jerusalem’ was their ‘Buying a Bed’ sketch, which features the hymn in a central role, and lent it humourous associations that I’m still struggling to unlink. Now you can deal with it, too:
‘Nemoralia' (lyrics) is a brief meditation on the London riots of this past summer that incorporates samples from news footage. I still haven’t totally absorbed it as a song; the (presumably sampled) martial drumbeats, sounds of flare-guns and stuttered beats feel sonically like a return to Lycanthropy, and the lyrics seem to use the conflict in Patrick’s old neighbourhood as an opportunity to reflect on where he’s come from and how far. The saxophone solo, it should be noted, is a tribute to the late Poly Styrene and her band the X-Ray Spex.
‘Pelicans' (lyrics) is about a journey along the Florida Coast, but it’s also the latest of Patrick’s bird songs. Here, rather than flying off into the sky with another, Patrick contemplates how to balance stability and spontaneity, longing “to be as careless as I once was,” and wondering if growing up means slowing down. Given recent comments, the answer is probably not:
It’s not in my nature to settle down at all. I have settled down in the last few years, but it’s very much in my behaviour pattern to make sure that as soon as I get comfortable, to quickly ensure that I get uncomfortable as soon as possible.
Do you know where you might go?
PW: I just went to Florida. I want to go to somewhere that’s the opposite of my life; I want to go somewhere where there are crocodiles and pelicans….
…and retired Americans on sun loungers?
PW: Maybe I’ll make a bluegrass album or something. I think I’m ready for a country album. I’d be like the male KD Lang.
- “A Watershed Moment,” The Quietus, June 23, 2011 (source)
And finally, ‘Trust' (lyrics) a brutally honest picture of Patrick’s own fear of intimacy, and an admission of frailty despite his display of strength over ten years of battle. It features the harp-playing of Serafina Steer, whose beautiful 2010 LP, Change is Good, Change is Good, I discovered through Patrick’s recommendation. (Check it out!) But I digress. Most intriguingly, ‘Trust’ features the declaration that “I never should have listened to the fortune teller” - a repudiation of the moment that (at least narratively) sparked Patrick’s transformation into ‘Patrick Wolf’ back in his Paris days. The song ends with the German word Vertrauen, which means “to trust in somebody,” and these parting words:
"And when you lose this trust Remember must Two fugitives From the winter months Rewriting all The rules of love Renegades To the world around us
and a hint of accordion, which is as good a place to leave things as any.
Together [Lupercalia/Brumalia] [Dir. Mattias Johannson]
“Alone again in Paris,” Patrick sighs. Alone - his natural state, since the first time he fled there. But first, a delicately plucked arpeggio, a snare roll, a trilled noise of static, a sense of foreboding. “You’ve been on my mind.” Moroder synths and a morose baritone. ”A rooftop in Berlin,” outside the studio, in the middle of recording. Can you believe that this was produced by Alec Empire? “These cities, this view / I see nothing without you.” Not ‘without you I am blind,’ but ‘imagining you here with me.’
The magic of ‘Together’ (lyrics) is that, despite the title, despite the despondency, despite the disco strings***, Patrick doesn’t give up his hard-won independence. “I can do this alone,” he insists, “but we can do this so much better, together.” How easy it would have been to insist ‘I can’t.’ Codependent? Not after the lessons of The Bachelor. But interdependent? Certainly. ”Stronger we stand, together.” True love knows no sacrifice, because when you’re doing it properly it’s compromise. The way he lets his voice soar - finally - on the chorus, the swirl of the violins, the perfect marriage of sad verses and euphoric chorus. ‘William’ might be the heart of Lupercalia, but ‘Together’ is its climax.
'Together' is so great that Patrick recorded an entire new EP around it, is what I'm saying.
*** I lied before, about ‘The Libertine’. Those aren’t disco strings. These are disco strings.
[Lupercalia-era artwork. Brumalia photography by Patti Smith.]
People don’t normally approach me for collaborations but there have been a few really great ones. Marianne Faithful, Tilda Swinton, Patti and Nan Golding were my four most memorable. It’s nice to be asked. It can be quite lonely being a solo musician and going out there and being a bit of an island, so when someone like Patti comes along and believes in your work and believes in you like that, it means a lot.
- Patrick Wolf, “Time for Mr. Wolf,” DIY, April 8, 2011 (source)