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‘Mercy Oceans’ is UK based musician Andria Degens’s second album after 1999’s ‘Trees Hold Time’. The name, which sprang from Philip Pullman’s ‘His Dark Materials’ trilogy and was further carried by the discovery of St. Pantaleimon (a healer), means ‘all is merciful’.
These references capture Degens’s nature, her awareness of karmic burden and innate naturalism—she believes that ‘all of us can perform miracles in our lifetime if our faith, discipline, focus and commitment to ‘God’ is strong enough’. Her lyrics are repeated in childlike sweeps, suggestive of a less naive Vashti Bunyan. Her constructions are minimalist and meditative, and Degens has an unconscious feeling for creating layered, simple melodies coated in gentle whimsy. ‘High Star’ and ‘We Love’ are billowing clouds of cushioned accoustics, the faint whirr of wind, strings, and a monotone flux. But her guiding intuition drifts a little off course for ‘All the Birds’, veering into a dreamless sleep of repetition that fails to occupy attention.
‘Mercy Oceans’ is focused, crafting meditative arrangements from skeletal acoustics and gentle haunting vocals. It exists in a spiritual hinterland, dancing in the half light before dawn; a magical time between waking and sleeping.
– JENNIFER ALLAN, WIRE MAGAZINE FEB 2008
“Hastings-based Andria Degens steps out of folk collective Current 93 to deliver her second solo album. Accompanied by harpist Baby Dee, with Keith Wood on guitar and Isobel Campbell on cello, Degens creates a drowsy, ringing sound with Appalachian dulcimer, bouzouki and octave mandola. The medieval feel of this beautiful instrumentation is complemented by delicate vocals delivered as a breathy drone. Monophonic arrangements can render the vocals flat against such jewel-like orchestration, but after repeated listening it really works. ‘I am, I am, the stars, the seas,’ intones Degens repeatedly on ‘I Am’, as she whirls you into a meditative trance.”
– KATIE TOMS, THE OBSERVER 13th JAN 2008
“The second LP by Hastings-based alt folkie and Current 93 collaborator Andria Degens is a beautifully poised affair, her desolate vocals and open-hearted lyrics tastefully supported by dulcimer, harp, cello and “ambient sounds courtesy of flight AB6187 from Berlin to Athens”. Guests include Isobel Campbell and Hush Arbors guitarist Keith Wood”
– MANISH ARGWAL, MOJO FEB 2008
“I first became acquainted with the work of Andria Degens through her contribution to the Current 93 album “Black Ships Ate the Sky”. Her cover of “Idumea” engulfed me in a world of quiet and healing warmth with a simple arrangement and a voice that sang barely above a whisper. “Mercy Oceans” contains that same feeling, only now it is magnified and multifaceted thanks to the original compositions contained within. Adria’s songwriting voice is refreshingly pure and unpretentious, falling somewhere between a healing mystic, a wide-eyed child, and a sage. Sonically, the disc is made from sparse and repetitive acoustic instrumentation that sometimes swells with cello and harp, but mostly stays back in the mix with dulcimer and guitar passages filling in the skeletons of the songs. Andria’s vocals are chant-like and hushed, at times reminiscent of the great Vashti Bunyan. The contributions of guests like Keith Wood and Baby Dee are handled with a great deal of subtlety, but add to the overall dynamic of the album.
To me, the most important thing about “Mercy Oceans” is the unmistakable magic that Andria has tapped into. I kept feeling a genuine healing presence throughout the album, like an unconditional love felt after a hard cry. This feeling completely overwhelms me every time I listen to the track “We Love”, which might just be the most beautiful piece of mystical music I have ever heard (sitting right next to This Mortal Coil’s cover of “Song to the Siren” and Psychic TV’s “The Orchids”). It seems that songs like these could only emerge from a soul that has been through an great deal of pain, only to emerge stronger and more resilient than ever. This is completely real and powerful music that can change and heal. The simplicity is monumental and the intent is strong. 10/10″
– CHARLES FRANKLIN, FOXY DIGITALIS DEC 2007
“This, the second full-length album by Andria Degens features a number of fellow folk travellers taking up guest spots, with the like of Hush Arbors’ Keith Wood, Isobel Campbell and Baby Dee all reporting for duty. Degens’ instrument of choice is the Appalachian dulcimer, which combines with her lulling vocal style for one of the more ethereal sounds on the current avant-folk scene. Mercy Oceans is made a little earthier by the presence of her collaborators, and certainly Keith Wood’s fingerpicked guitar brings pieces like ‘The Sun Came Out’ and ‘At Dawn’ back into a more familiar language, but the best material here comes in the stranger moments, such as ‘Born Into You’, which weaves droning tambura and chanting into a more conventional context thanks to Baby Dee’s harp and John Contreras’ cello. There are some beautiful songs here, some of which might even propel Degens into the more mainstream end of the current folk scene. Recommended.”
“Video of the Week: Pantaleimon – “We Love”. Andria Degens has outdone herself in song and film. The beauty—captured within music and celluloid—transforms “We Love” into an mini epic. Rarely does music with this much heartfelt passion make such a delicate, yet unforgettable impression. As for the video, it’s a classic. Shot to look as if the passing scenes are trapped in a dream or memory, the video for “We Love” becomes a part of you. Every person has sat around and dreamed of lover—-old and new; they’ve reminisced about the innocent, care-free times. Our brain creates a love letter that just can’t be captured on film, but “We Love” is as close as film has ever gotten and it’s in a three-and-a-half minute music video.”
– ELECTRONIC VOICE PHENOMENON
“Accompanied mostly by the hypnotic strummed and plucked sounds of her Appalachian dulcimer, and by occasional guests including Keith Wood of Hush Arbors, Baby Dee and ambient airliner cabin sounds, Andria Degens’ second album is an intimate close-up glance into multitracked vocal fragility. Deliberately paced, the songs on ‘Mercy Oceans’ sometimes sound as if they are being sung for the first time, for the listener alone. ‘High Star’ shimmers brightly, with Degens’ slow vibrato intertwining magically with Isobel Campbell’s cello amid a trembling drone, the same harmonic tone which gives ‘Born Into You’ and ‘Raw Heart’ the timeless stamp of gently passionate love songs which are simultaneously private and shared willingly with the outside world. Drifting in the immersive world of Pantaleimon can be disconcerting though. When the album finishes and workaday normality returns, it somehow seems so much more appealing to play the record over instead, and be stolen away once more.”
– RICHARD FONTENOY, PLAN B, JAN 2008
“This will come as no surprise to those who know me, but I am easily amused by the seemingly irrelevant and the irrational. Take for instance the fact that when the ninth track ‘I Am’ ends on this, Pantaleimon’s long awaited new album (the first, ‘Trees Hold Time’, was released as long ago as 1999), a full two minutes of silence elapses before ‘Storm and Thunder’ begins, during which the digital clock runs backwards. How cool is that?!
Well, OK so it’s no big deal. I mention it though because to my mind ‘Storm and Thunder’ is one of the strongest tracks on here, if ‘strong’ can be used to describe something as fragile as a frosted bloom, and risks being overlooked by anyone not fully paying attention and skipping on to the next album before this one’s run its course, which would be a crying shame. I use this term advisedly, as there’s a sadness which pervades Pantaleimon’s songs once you scratch the surface: the songs are superficially about sun, nature, earth, stars weather and love, but the stars are lost in a deep black sky, the birds have all flown, the sun is drowning, the moon fades, hearts are empty and ships are adrift in a storm. Andria Degens’ voice is hushed and contemplative and this, coupled with that fact that the instrumentation is sparse throughout – her own instrument of choice is the Appalachian dulcimer, and elsewhere she is accompanied by harp, cello and guitar – combines to lend the music an ethereal air. And yet, the songs are not without hope, without a certain amount of joy in life itself.
Hush Arbors’ Keith Wood’s beautifully fingerpicked guitar propel pieces like ‘The Sun Came Out’ and ‘At Dawn’ towards the more familiar currents of the present avant-folk scene, but the best material here comes in the darker moments which Degens, such as the album’s stand-out number ‘Born Into You’, which weaves Baby Dee’s harp and John Contreras’ cello in, out, through and beyond droning tambura and haunting chants. It’s interesting to note that the same label, Durtro Jnana, is releasing our old friend Sharron Kraus’s new album ‘The Fox’s Wedding’ later this year. Whilst Sharon’s music is firmly rooted in English (and to some extent Appalachian) folk traditions, with ballads populated by a carnival of charismatic characters, all of whom invariably fall foul of terrible deeds of incest, obsession, insects and perversion, Pantaleimon’s music is decidedly more contemplative, introverted almost. The two complement each other wonderfully well – it’s going to be a special treat watching both perform at Terrastock 7 next June.”
– PHIL McMULLEN, TERRASCOPE
“Delicate drone-folk from Current 93 collaborator. Andria Degens is a resident of Hastings, one of those crumbling seaside towns where time seems to slow to a crawl. This is the first Pantaleimon album since her 1999 debut, and nothing about it is hurried. Over gently plucked acoustic guitar, bouzouki, dulcimer and cello, Degens trills simple, devotional paens to God and nature. Her voice, often double-tracked or harmonised with guests Isobell Campbell and Baby Dee, is delicate but far from vulnerable. Degens is part of David ‘Current 93′ Tibet’s doom-folk diaspora but Anne Briggs, Vashti Bunyan and Björk’s Vespertine are also touchstones for an album of humble joy.”
“What I know about Pantaleimon is that it serves as a moniker [name she most likely borrowed from St. Panteleimon – whose name means “all merciful”] used by vocalist and multi-instrumentalist Andria Degens. What I also know is her music pours out onto the page like a bleeding heart. Music she holds within her was only released after she took an extended trip around the world. It was then she realized the need to give birth to what we can now all take part in. I’ve not followed her musical whereabouts since the beginning. But, all is not lost as her latest batch of releases confirms she is someone whose endearing, restrained talent is something to cheer about.
“Her second album “Mercy Oceans” is a sort of catharsis that one needs to undergo during ones lifespan. It’s music that is whispered. Notions are suggested while Degens’ heart bleeds all over the speakers. This is as naked as music gets – where the soul is left barren, where possibilities exist for a better and greater tomorrow. One would like to believe that people will start their own private revolution upon hearing these songs. Degens has a keen ability to hold ones attention. Each phrase is uttered with utmost attention to details. Each breath is filled with meaning and holds weight. With each minute, one gets a sense of floating mere inches above a large body of water in a state of weightlessness. Every time she strikes the dulcimer, plucks the mandolin, or adds drones to the mix, one is struck by the wonder of it all. With guests such as Baby Dee [harp], Isobel Campbell [cello, piano, glockenspiel and vocals], Keith Wood [guitar], the music takes on the aura of near hallowed beauty. “We Love” comes across as one of the most striking examples of Degens at her peak. The vocals are sung with graceful lift, while the whispering dulcimer and cello melodies send shivers down the spine. Later, on “Born Into You”, the string instruments and drones add up to bliss as Degens sends waves of shimmering cascades from her mouth. The crowning peak comes on “I Am”, where the vocals are austere, dulcimer particularly hypnotic and the piece ends with dead silence. “Mercy Oceans” is a hill of peace and calmness spread across time and space.”
– TOM SEKOWSKI