danieltalsky | Albums | Wednesday, September 11th, 2013
You may be excited about the new Janelle Monae, and you should be, it's amazing. But you were going to listen to that anyway.
You might not have heard the astounding debut of Laura Mvula, however, and I recommend you do. Laura sings songs I would play for my (imaginary) children, and we'd listen to the songs over and over until the LP wore through. Laura takes a few phrases and then stacks them layer by layer to make a musical tower out of them.
Sing to the Moon has its strengths and weaknesses, but at its best it is utterly timeless. Like, Nina Simone timeless. This is one of those albums where I feel confident in hyperbole because I'm going to play you a few songs and I feel like they stand on their own for pure "wow" factor.
First of all, Green Garden, a love song so magnificent I need to listen to it almost every day. Only a few lines, but she does the most with them.
Then only Laura could make an angry song like That's Alright so exultant. She "could never be what you want and that's alright" but she'd like to ask "who made you the center of the universe?"
Lastly, I Don't Know What The Weather Will Be, the classic theme of love that fears commitment, made romantic as only Miss Mvula could:
Civilian came out in early 2011, and since then it's become like a broken-in leather shoe that fits me so perfectly that I can slip it on when I want to go down to the Bodega for a coconut water to soothe a hangover, but it still looks good enough on me that I can wear them out on a date. This is a metaphor. Wye Oak's Civilian is actually an album.
Civilian opens to sounds somewhere between the chatter and clatter of a party and the tuning of an orchestra and washes into the gentleness of Two Small Deaths. Jen Wasner's voice and gentle arpeggiated guitar create a warm wash of sound. Then she begins her story with:
Two small deaths happened today
With that she builds slowly to the crescendo in the song Civilian, and then takes the rest of the album to set me back down on earth. The production is like watercolor pencil, distinct in some places, fading into a wash of muted colors in others. It's the kind of sound that wraps itself all the way around me.
This is the kind of album some would call "overproduced" but I would probably call "well-produced". It's hard to believe this rich wall of sound is played by two people. Jen Wasner sings and plays guitar (and I think it's fair to say she shreds when she needs to), and Andy Stack does percussion and everything else.
When I put it on my headphones for a long train ride, I never regret it. Ever. And then what seems like a few minutes later I think, "Aw man, it's already over. What do I follow that with?" (Answer: Dum Dum Girls' End of Days EP).
The Alter shows off Jen's watery, Hendrix-like guitar playing
Dog's Eyes is one of the most playful tracks on the album, showing the big changes in feeling an dynamic even in a single song with guitar that's sometimes playful and sometimes lands like a crunching, squealing weight on your head.
Civilian is the core of the album, it's crescendo, showing all of Jen's delicacy and sonic wailing wall. I almost hate to include it out of context but it's a damn good song.
Holy Holy is all swollen with a soft passion, and I think where Jen does her best singing on the song. She sounds almost like a modern Stevie Nicks here. Possibly my favorite song on the album.
Doubt? The tender sign-off to the album. I love how it ends on this note of tender reassurance: