Little Wise: Silver Birch

Scott Wallace
13th Nov 2016

What would Australian folk and country music be without storytellers? Silver Birch, the debut album from Melbourne-based artist Little Wise, otherwise known as Sophie Klein, is a collection of stories in song that are poetic in their prosaicness, transporting the listener into a liminal world of the forgotten, the pining, the hopeful, and the hopeless in Australia's rural areas

Silver Birch was recorded in Klein's childhood home, which is now empty, as well as the small town of Balaclava in the New South Wales Southern Highlands. The effect that these locales had on the music is immediately apparent, with production that is warm, layered with a delicate and dusty film of reverb. The gentle folk rock sounds not the record are oddly timeless, reminiscent of Australian music royalty like The Go-Betweens and The Triffids.

Klein has a gentle, high and thin voice, as well as an understated way of performing, though she has a knack for surrounding her voice with flurries of gorgeous, complementary sounds. Highlight "Grab a Hold" features swells of slide guitar and builds to a striking and subtle climax coloured by close, otherworldly harmonies. The single "Don't Hurry Back," a tale of memories fading in the wake of desolation, builds from a drone of organ to a drifting country dirge.

Klein engages deeply with the subjects of her songs. Whether they are based on people she knows, or products of her imagination, they are lucid depictions of exterior and interior landscapes centred around a cast of compelling characters. The title track finds Klein seeing herself through her own mother's eyes, and the result is spellbinding and intensely emotional, the more low key arrangement allowing Klein's gentle performance to shine.

Silver Birch does have a tendency to play more like a sustained mood piece than a collection of separate songs. Tempos remain slow throughout, and the volume quiet, so details often float by in the slipstream without close attention. Some respite is offered in the form of tracks like "Favourite Song," a raw, bluesy groove featuring fellow Melboune artist Sal Kimber and some rougher textures, and the more breezy, major key "Stairs" that brings the record to an optimistic close.

Little Wise has made the sort of record that suits a very particular, pensive mood of introspection. Over some it will cast a spell for its duration, and for others it is likely to provoke restlessness. There are other albums like this out there, but Klein has such a tender and open hearted spark to her, that fans of Australian folk and country would be direly mistaken to overlook Little Wise.

Silver Birch is out now on digital formats.