1. Hot Rod Waltz (3:33)
2. Invitation (2:24)
3. Forro Fuega (2:45)
4. Tse-Tse (4:06)
5. 20 Heart (0:54)
6. Orkneys (4:12)
7. Mr. Hamster’s Dilemma (3:51)
8. Celleste (4:57)
9. Botellas de Botica (3:27)
10. Experiment (3:35)
11. Year of my Solstice (5:28)
12. Skallaloo (3:38)
Elaine DiFalco – voice, piano, keyboards, vibraphone, handclaps, shaker, accordion, qarkabeb, rhythm box, percussion
Cédric Vuille – guitar, e-bow guitar, bass, keyboards, cuatro, clarinet, ukulele, nose flute, percussion, kalimba, theremin, banjolele, flute, spoons, triangle, jew’s harp
Dave Willey – accordion, bass, tambourine, electric and acoustic guitar, surdo, zither, shaker, percussions, mailing tubes
Daniel Spahni – drums (1, 6, 7, 9, 10, 12)
Raoul Rossiter – pandero, triangle (3)
Udi Koomran – shaker, hand claps (6)
Naama and Michal Koomral – happy sisters (7)
Love or hate the Internet, there is no doubt that without its existence an album such as Send Me a Postcard would have never seen the light of day – much to the detriment of the contemporary non-mainstream music scene. In fact, the three artists who have adopted the quaintly endearing name of 3 Mice reside at opposite ends of the world – Cédric Vuille (of Débile Menthol and L’Ensemble Rayé fame) in Switzerland, Dave Willey and Elaine DiFalco (both members of Thinking Plague, Willey also Hamster Theatre’s founder and mainman) in Colorado. Israeli sound engineer Udi Koomran (one of the icons of the modern Avant-Prog scene) acted as a catalyst by arranging a meeting between the three artists in 2008, when Thinking Plague performed in Vuille’s home town of Geneva. After finding out that they were kindred spirits in their musical vision, Vuille, DiFalco and Willey started their project by sharing files on the Internet, then drafting in some trusted collaborators (namely L’Ensemble Rayé’s drummer Daniel Spahni and Hamster Theatre’s percussionist Raoul Rossiter, as well as Koomran himself). Send Me a Postcard, lovingly packaged in Elaine DiFalco’s delightful artwork, was finally ready for release at the end of 2011.
Clocking in at about 42 minutes, and featuring 12 short tracks (the longest barely above 5 minutes), Send Me a Postcard belongs to the “new generation” of undeniably progressive albums that, however, dispense with most of the trappings of traditional prog – such as epics, orchestral arrangements and somewhat pretentious concepts. Even if the association of the members of 3 Mice with the RIO/Avant scene may prove daunting to those who are more conservatively inclined, the album has more in common with Hamster Theatre’s playful, folksy attitude than Thinking Plague’s austere intensity. Songwriting credits are shared equally between the three artists, who lend them their individual imprint; DiFalco’s compositions are the closest to classic RIO/Avant modes, though with a more informal, laid-back attitude.
Unlike Willey’s recent solo album, the outstanding Immeasurable Currents (which has a very similar structure in terms of running time and number of tracks), Send Me a Postcard is mostly instrumental, though DiFalco’s distinctive voice appears on half of the tracks, engaged in lovely wordless vocalization. There is nothing overly serious or academic about 3 Mice’s approach: the overall mood is decidedly upbeat, reflecting the sheer joy of making music that is at the same time complex and accessible. The emphasis is firmly placed on the sleek, seamless instrumental interplay, with the three musicians switching effortlessly from one instrument to the other; the main actors – the accordion, the guitar and the piano – are complemented by an impressive array of exotic percussion and other ethnic instruments.
Not surprisingly, being the result of the collaboration between a European artist (belonging to a French-speaking cultural environment) and two American ones, Send Me a Postcard is a quintessentially cosmopolitan effort, merging European folk with Brazilian and Latin suggestions, with classical influences and a hint of intriguing Avant flavour thrown in for good measure. Thanks to Koomran’s peerless mix, every instrument is finely detailed with stunning clarity of sound, and the melodic quotient of each composition is brought to the fore in a remarkably ear-pleasing way. It is also quite intriguing to see how much variety can be packed in a 3-minute song, and how the rich instrumentation creates multilayered textures in spite of the chamber-like nature of the ensemble.
“Hot Rod Waltz” opens the album with a bold rock-meets-folk flair – electric guitar, bass and drums beefing up the sound and providing a fine foil for the nostalgic tone of the accordion. As suggested by the title, “Orkneys” taps the rich Celtic folk vein, starting out very much like a traditional reel (though driven by accordion rather than the more customary fiddle), and turning more sedate towards the end. The delicate, intimist tone of “Invitation” and “Tse Tse” and the gently chiming interlude of “20 Heart” are offset by the brisk, infectious pace of the Brazilian-influenced, percussion-heavy “Forro Fuega” and the sprightly Caribbean dance of closing track “Skallaloo”. In the only song featuring lyrics, the quirky tale of “Mr Hamster’s Dilemma”, the refreshing laughter of Udi Koomran’s daughters echoes in the background, complementing the jangly, sunny tone of the guitar. On the other hand, the eerie wail of the theremin adds a faintly disquieting note to “Celleste”, and intensifies the autumnal tone of the piano-led “Year of My Solstice”; while the haunting, effects-laden drone of “Experiment” points to the three artists’ RIO/Avant background.
Though quite likely to remain a one-off, Send Me a Postcard is an excellent effort that can be warmly recommended to all lovers of great music, Fans of folk/world music with an ear for quirkiness and subtle complexity will find it especially appealing, though devotees of “traditional” prog’s grandiosely orchestrated textures might find it disappointingly simple for their standards. Easy on the ear without being poppy, brimming with lovely melodies and brilliant instrumental performances (not to mention Elaine DiFalco’s gorgeous voice), Send Me a Postcard is a little gem that will reveal its many charms at each listen.