Under the full moon on November 23, Figure & Ground releases Olema, the debut album from mammifères.
Preview the album 👇
Both irreverent and deeply respectful of its musical heritage, mammifères tangles roots music with new harmonies and adapted stories. Drawing on field recordings and learned songs of the past, these urban mammals refurbish forgotten tunes with the musical languages of the future.
Equally comfortable with American folk as with medieval chant, the group pulls from improvisation, noise, jazz, queer culture, and contemporary performance to create their sensitive sound.
“Old songs are made anonymous when they’re sung millions of times,” says singer and bandleader Lukas Papenfusscline. “Singing them is like hiking: you’re being thrown into a world of history, of otherness, of nature, a place you feel you don’t belong but absolutely do. Olema for me is about human interaction with wildness—it’s benefits and destructions.”
Inspired by the Pt. Reyes Peninsula, a collection of small communities on the California coast just north of where Lukas was raised, Olema is an ode to the natural beauty of the landscape and its complex human history.
“I feel like all the music and theater I make always has backing in the past,” says Lukas, having spent months researching the history of the Pt. Reyesregion and its colonization. “I’ve never had faith in myself to create something totally new. It’s important to me that there’s something to research, there is something in the past to dredge up and put in dialogue with today’s world.”
Ever on the lookout for forgotten songs, Lukas toured the US after graduating, living in his car and playing solo shows while “continually curating these songs until they just finished themselves.” He listened to field recordings, dug through manuscripts, and asked friends to sing songs they remembered from childhood. After collecting 25 tunes, the singer moved to New York and started teaching the band his arrangements.
Produced by Lily Wen, the album was recorded by Peter Atkinson in a makeshift studio in Boston—formerly Blue Jay Studios—and comprises nine traditional American and British songs, mainly from the late 1800s or older (or unknown). Limited to 50 hand-cut vinyl copies, the 12-inch LP release features a 12-page photo journal and a download card. It is available for pre-order at fgrecords.com and comes with a download of the single "Pallet". There is also a limited run of 50 standalone photo booklets created by Alia Wilhelm in conversation with the musicians.
“We’ve always wanted to collaborate with as many people as possible – so we’ve built this structure to create a forest of music, such that anyone in the band could play lead at any given moment, or we can invite someone else to fill that role,” says Papenfusscline. Featured players include Wendy Eisenberg on noise guitar, Berklee professor Edmar Colon on saxophone, Peter Godart on keys, and Abby Swidler on violin and viola.
“We learn the tune as it stands, a melody and some pretty words from another era,” describes Lukas. “Then we work with harmony, finding new chords that can interact with the melody in a new way, and with more color than a 1-4-5-1 structure ever could. I make changes as they come and let the arrangements develop organically with the band.” Still, though, the band is constantly changing the arrangements: “We’re improvisers and hate to set the arrangement too concretely. Each time we play it’s a very different song, never the same twice. It has to be dependent on the moment rather than the chart.”