Griots hold an esteemed position in West African society. They are reservoirs of truth, maintaining the histories of families and land. They tell and re-tell these stories to music, keeping the people within them alive, and enlisting pride in their relatives. If Molly Sarlé happened to be born in Senegal, Mali or the like, she would’ve assumed such a position with ease, such is her aptitude for storytelling and understanding of humanity in all its forms.
We talk of hunters and gatherers, and Sarlé is a gatherer of stories; her nomadic experience, living in a cliffside trailer in Big Sur, spending time in a monastery and returning home to Durham (NC) over the past three years, granting her access to a hodgepodge of human experience.
In a record that verges from strident, thrusting folk-rock to sparse, atmospheric vignettes, Sarlé mingles her own story with the humans she met along the way. Mike who promises more than he can provide, Billy dancing, shirtless, in the living room and Kimberley, the ex-wife of a new flame, are just a sample of the flawed caste we meet.
The album’s opening line, “He’s got long skinny legs / And holes in his pants” gives an insight into the level of detail Sarlé goes into when exhuming the sharpest edges of these characters. Sarlé though is not a heartless voyeur, rather ‘Karaoke Angel’ is a shrine to compassion and empathy, giving people the time of day, a shoulder to cry on. In her mind we are Mike, we are Billy, we are Kimberley. On ‘Twisted’, the album’s missive, she sings: “Who says there’s anything wrong with being twisted?” An admission that we are all struggling and in desperate need of each other to make it through.
‘Almost Free’ recalls the time Sarlé’s father told her he wanted to kill himself, “I need you here” she sings softly, desperately in reply. ‘Suddenly’ is the realisation that you’re going through the motions in a relationship, and its demise is imminent. Sarlé, however, tells of this downfall in a street-poet style that Jarvis Cocker and Alex Turner would be proud of, “After giving you head / I get the fuck out of bed / Melt some butter in a pan / Throw some cheese between two pieces of bread”.
Sarlé’s singing voice is already known to many of us, with the harmonising role she takes up as 1/3 of Mountain Man. Her true voice though, bared fully on this record, has remained hidden and this is the debut showcase of possibly the most essential new voice of 2019. On the aforementioned ‘Suddenly’, she sings “I’m changed.” And by god, this new look suits her.