Pooka, by Pooka
Suggested by Dreena Jane
Pooka, or Púca, or Phouka, is an Irish construct of Celtic folklore. It’s a creature, thought to be a bestower of fortune, both good and bad, known to help or hinder rural communities or fishing villages. Púkai are said to be shapechangers, with shocks of dark or white fur or hair, able to appear in a variety of animal forms such as horses, goats, dogs, cats and hares. They can also take human form, albeit with animal embellishments such as whiskers or a tail. Basically, cosplaying furries.
The Púca has many counterparts throughout the Celtic cultures of Northern Europe. The Channel Islands has the Pouque, Cornish has the Bucca, and the Welsh, with their snwcer in place of snooker, predictably replace Púca with Pwca.
The Púca is a common theme in culture and entertainment. Puck, from Midsummer Night’s Dream? He’s a Púca. As is Harvey, James Stewart’s six-foot-tall invisible rabbit friend. Pookas also appeared in the seminal children’s TV series Knightmare, presenting as floating green entities with swivelling eyes and prominent cheeks, with plants growing from their heads.
Pooka is also the name of the band, and album, that I’m reviewing today. Pooka the band consists of two singer-songwriters, Sharon Lewis and Natasha Jones. Pooka the album consists of twelve luscious and sometimes ludicrous tracks of subdued harmonies over acoustic guitars.
The first track on Pooka is City Sick, a country Blues number with a slow smoky bourbon feel. Lewis and Jones point and counterpoint the vocals, with one sounding sweet and subdued while the other offering a little more stridence. They’re a good match, and the song is likely my standout for the whole album.
The country blues sound is a recurring motif throughout Pooka’s forty-four minutes, but it’s not the whole story. There’s a sense of whimsy that runs alongside it, particularly in the vocals, which are reminiscent of both Ani DiFranco and Bjork at times, maybe even Kate Bush at others. AS for songwriting, Pooka the Duo are more than willing to subvert expectations. A fine example is Bluebell, which is perfectly delicate and beautiful at first, as the name would suggest, but morphs into something disquieting, almost ugly, by the end. And at times, the sound is just downright weird… check out the final track Sleepwalking for a fine example of the thin seem between creativity and oddness.
I liked the duality of this album, the sultry and accomplished singer-songwriter chic mixed in with flashes of peculiar grace, but in some ways that’s what holds it back. It keeps you at the edge of your seat, catching for breath, offering hints of non-linear thinking without truly breaking those eggs to make that omelette. The subdued vocals are beautiful, but they are distant and somewhat uninviting. You’re not totally invested in the sound initially, so when the Etch-A-Sketch is shaken to quirkily debunk your notions, the step-change doesn’t feel as powerful as it might.
It’s a nice sound, though. And the songs are cool. I give Pooka a fine 7/10, because there’s enough yin to mediate the yang.