On Cautionary Tales, Charming Disaster writes fables for the deconstruction
The quiet music of Charming Disaster explores frightening territory—murder, mortality, paranormal activity and looming apocalypse—with lilting waltzes, acoustic folk balladry and tropical grooves. Cautionary Tales, its self-released second album, has the intimate sound of a living-room recording. The duo—singer/ukulele player Ellia Bisker and singer/guitarist Jeff Morris—fills the air with smooth, blissful harmonies, often sounding like a single voice. They do the same in conversation.
“We have an affinity for the dark stuff,” they say. “The songs on this album were inspired by storytelling—ancient Greek and Norse mythology, fantasy novels and traditional folk tales. The unofficial title track of Cautionary Tales is the song ‘Little Black Bird,’ which draws from the fables of Aesop and La Fontaine. They always had a moral. Our moral is probably not that helpful: Beware. You are doomed. This will all end badly.”
The album came together in a cabin in Michigan, during the winter of 2016. “We were awarded an artist residency that allowed us to spend two weeks in isolation in the woods, where we wrote or completed almost half the songs on the album,” they say. “To capture a sense of the space we’d been working in, which felt haunted by benevolent spirits, we included a lot of household objects in our instrumentation—some especially resonant pots and pan lids, the rim of a wineglass, traced by a finger, and a whistling tea kettle.”
Onstage, the duo has the same understated presence that makes its albums so compelling. “We’re one creature with eight arms and legs, like a two-headed octopus, and we dress up for shows. Jeff in foppish Goth Americana style, Ellia in dark under-eye makeup and a feather headpiece, like an Edward Gorey character. It helps bring our audience into our weird alternate universe. Humor is also important. We intersperse our songs with witty banter, very deadpan.”