Music and Art have always gone hand in hand. Musicians are always keen to embrace art whether it is for an album cover or a band logo, for money, just for the sake of it or to just show off a bit. It makes sense that creative types should be able to tap into both fields, it all comes from the same part of the brain, right? The members of Elfin Saddle were artists before musicians, Jordan McKenzie and Emi Honda met each other at a showcase of Honda’s work. Their relationship blossomed via their interest in similar art styles and their joint love of nature and the great outdoors. Somewhere along the line they decided to pick up instruments. On Devastates, the band continues their adoration of the natural world, it being the major source of inspiration and influence. Even the band’s name references this; ‘Elfin Saddle’ is a type of Fungi.

It is no surprise when listening to Devastates that the band is signed to Constellation Records, home of Godspeed! You Black Emperor and Thee Silver Mt. Zion Memorial Orchestra among others. The album is wholly experimental and its roots are firmly in the folk genre. To describe it as ‘Prog-folk’ or ‘Art-folk’ would be a fair assertion. Standard structure is generally not adhered to, the band are much more interested in building ideas organically. This results in the tracks becoming more like compositions than ‘songs’.

‘Kiboho’ begins with Accordion drones and lengthy high pitched feedback (I can’t tell whether it is feedback or not - the band are very pro acoustic, so to use electric instruments goes against their mantra somewhat). It wouldn’t sound out of place on The Lord of the Rings soundtrack, being similarly atmospheric and evoking the epic wilderness of a bygone age. The song does, however, descend into chaos with a powerful and primal rhythmic pattern. It is a tactic that the band uses both here and on ‘In a Blanket of Leaves’ and ‘The Changing Wind’. They opt for rhythm over melody and anchor their pieces with a drone. They also embellish this with a high vocal or a melody line in harmony. Honda’s soprano vocal is for the most part wistful and angelic, however on occasion she pushes it to the limit - essentially screeching. To a backdrop of noise it is wince inducing. Throughout the album she sings in both English and Japanese; the introduction of her native culture and language into the music gives it an original and personal feel. ‘The Changing Wind’ also suggests her Japanese heritage in the opening picks of the guitar which sound like they have been plucked straight out of the far-east.

‘Boats’ is a quieter moment, a childlike sea shanty led by Glockenspiel. This merges into ‘The Power and the Wake’, which sees McKenzie turn cult preacher. Again, no clear structure is present, just a ton of sound underneath a poetic delivery. I can’t make head or tail of what he’s actually saying though. 'Chaos Hand' is the most conventional song on the album and a jollier piece than everything else. I imagine hobbits getting pissed whilst listening and/or dancing to it. Closer ‘The Wind Come Carry’ comes after the explosive ‘In a Blanket of Leaves’ and showcases some great intertwining melody lines and harmonies.

To the folk aficionado, Devastates is essential listening, not necessarily because it is a good album, but because it shows great ambition and pushes the limits of what can be expected in the genre. At times, it is sonically spectacular, so much so, it can all be a little bit much. Sometimes it does become bogged down in self indulgence but experimental acts are always going to be accused of this. Certainly the album is an acquired taste, but to those that enjoy either folk or experimental it could be a real find.