TASSEOMANCY with SLIM TWIG and PRINCESS CENTURY at the Great Hall (1087 Queen West), tonight (Thursday, October 20), doors 9 pm. $10-$12. RT, SS. See listing.
Reykjavik is having a mesmerizing effect on Sari and Romy Lightman, the twin sisters who make up Toronto's Tasseomancy. They're on the European island for the Iceland Airwaves festival in their role as backup singers for white-hot electronic outfit Austra.
"This place!" says an awestruck Romy. "Right now we're staring at a 300-foot waterfall. There are rainbows everywhere. I kind of want to move here. Reykjavik is so beautiful and culturally with it and progressive. I'm like, ‘Wow, there are places like this that exist.'"
Usually, though, it's Tasseomancy that does the mesmerizing. The Lightmans' second album, Ulalume (Out of This Spark), is a thing of haunting beauty. Produced by and heavily featuring Taylor Kirk and Simon Trottier of Timber Timbre, it balances the sisters' creeptastic minor-key vocal harmonies with spacious organic and electronic textures. It's a bold step up from the barren folk music they made just a short time ago as Ghost Bees.
The darker side of life - and the afterlife - has always had a pull for the Lightmans. The ancient, melancholy Jewish songs of their childhood are an influence, as is their great-great grandmother, a Russian Jewish tea leaf reader. Album name Ulalume is taken from an Edgar Allan Poe poem, and they purposely scheduled its release show as close to Halloween as they could. (They'll be in Atlanta with Austra on the actual day.)
Is it a challenge keeping the spookiness from falling over into campy horror?
"Yeah," Sari admits. "But both of us really trust Taylor, and he's subtle with his approach. We were all aware of the line between atmosphere and ambience and were careful to not let things get excessive. We wanted to keep it subtle, slow and beautiful, to let the sounds slip through unobtrusively, to make a contemplative record that's not jarring."
While Tasseomancy gigs tend to be hushed, intimate affairs, the release show marks their debut as a four-piece and includes a strong visual component courtesy of visual artist Sojourner Truth Parsons, with whom they regularly collaborate. There might even be dancers, which speaks to Austra's influence.
"What I've taken most from [touring with Austra] is the whole dance element," says Romy. "The music is really physical. It's such a performative show. I remember at the first shows, Sari and I just stood there. We didn't know what to do.
"But then we discovered it's about loosening up and letting go. About being playful and not taking yourself so seriously. I'm not a dancer, but I dance now. And to see other people dance is really beautiful."