The image of Mice On Stilts feels like one that could have walked straight out of a dream, or even a surrealist painting. In this case, the name belongs to the six piece “doom folk” group from Aotearoa, New Zealand. Formed in 2011, Mice On Stilts are comprised of an eclectic range of instruments and influences. Bringing violin and horns to the classic guitar, bass and drums mix, a piano often leads the way in their cinematic soundscapes.
A kaleidoscope of genre bending, Khandallah is an exciting taste of the second album from Aotearoa band Mice On Stilts.
Currently gearing up for their second album, Hope for a Mourning (out April 15), the band have put out the first single ahead of the LP release. Khandallah is the aural realisation of exactly the kind of dreamscape that the Mice On Stilts moniker evokes. The song title is both prosaic and sentimental in the story of it’s arrival. During a stint working for an internet provider, vocalist and guitarist Ben Morley (also the band’s principal lyricist) spent his days speaking to different people all around Aotearoa. According to Morely, “While working there I spoke to a woman who lived in Khandallah. For whatever reason the word just kind of stuck with me. I looked up the suburb and read all about it. It means ‘resting place of God’.”
Working on the track itself and the inspiration, Mice On Stilts’ Khandallah describes “a place where two individuals exist without anxiety or expectation of each other, but not solely in a romantic setting.” Morely confessed that the song itself was “an attempt at writing a generic love song.” But we won’t hold that against the band. Particularly when the song in question is neither a slushy ballad nor a hit machine run off.
The whole track moves with a continuous pace, either trudging or marching steadily. Held up by Morley’s softly echoing vocals, these are somewhat reminiscent of Coldplay’s Chris Martin on their iconic A Rush Of Blood To The Head (in a good way!) where Morley’s vocals reach for an ambience rather than power. A chorus of backing vocals also propel Khandallah onwards into its dreamy soundscape. Listen intently enough, and the semi melancholy melodies and swirling effects will lull you into some sort of dream state.
With a certain wildness to the muted vocal cries, and the slightly uncomfortable melody played out on the piano, Mice On Stilts offer up a rare slice of atmosphere. The description “cinematic” is often attributed to the band, and in the truest sense of the word Khandallah really does evoke feeling like a film score. Encouraging you to drift away on Morley’s lyric river and the cascading saxophone, the misty ambience swirls up in your head quite beautifully.
As the first taste of Mice On Stilt’s next full length release, Khandallah promises something more thought provoking than you might gather on first listen. Oddly uplifting, despite its melancholic edge, the song leaves a slight hauntedness, like a vivid but surreal dream. I can’t help but feel that there is a better description for Mice On Stilts than “doom folk”, but I may need some more time to dream it up. In the mean time, I’ll leave it at Arohanui, or big love, for Khandallah.