I’ve read a lot of reviews for this platter, and they all seek to explain her in her context, expound the background and discuss the disc’s relevance in relation to her former work. Sod that – each album, in my opinion, with the exception of very few (Mesmerise/Hypnotise by System Of A Down, and similar experiments) should be taken as hermetically sealed units of musical expression, experienced as such, and THEN relevanced: a new word.
With this idea in mind, I shall review. This album came into my possession simply because I read about it in the paper, liekd the review and bought it. Thankfully, it justifies the hype. Kicking off with plucked acoustic guitar and a soft, well spoken, “over-enunciated” voice, Fire Snakes should be predictable American singer-songwriter fayre, but it starts with the word ‘mermaids’, and that certainly wasn’t what I was expecting. Her work abounds with naturalistic and geological/geographical imagery, and the spacey, ethereal electronics and the tight, spare band she tours with (Tortured Souls) flesh out her sound into something more, something different.
Galaxies is the obvious single, it’s got a good, hummable melody, a catchy chord progression, lyrics with that chanting/repetitive quality that doesn’t grate, and a broad enough musical palette to make you think ‘Hm? That’s interesting’ without thinking ‘Hm. Experimental. Nah, won’t carry on.’ For a muso, the latter is de reigeur. For the normal person, the former is required. Being a muso, I ought to hate it. Thus, I love it. There are joys in being perverse and contrary.
The album was written after a decent tour, which influences many of the lyrical themes, none more so than on Secret Someones, another quietly insistent song, which allows Veirs’ voice to shine, breathe and mellow out, especially on the chorus. Whilst her band strictly back her, they are a talented bunch. What certainly stands out throughout this album is Veirs’ desire to play the electric guitar, and keyboards, as well as just to ponder the state of her psyche with an acoustic guitar, sitting on a stool. It’s this colourful sound (somehow, that idiotic comment doesn’t seem too bad) that can highlight such wonderful lyrics as “Tell me did you make it to the show/Tell me did you like the drummer’s hair?”
It’s a well paced disc, with some fast, some slow, some loud, some quiet, some muted, some riotous in the diversity of the instrumentation. Some of the songs function more as mood pieces, or as soft interludes between the fully fleshed out numbers, but Magnetized, even though it’s short, quiet and muted, still has one of the prettiest, loveliest melodies on the album. What stands out the most though, is the viola scattered across the disc. Parisian Dream, one such song, utilises the intrument much better than the meandering outro to Fire Snakes, and floats along with the keening vocal melodies and the soft rock stylings of the band, producing one of the better tracks.
Rialto, is almost two songs, exploding quietly with a distorted guitar line, and the shifting of tone towards the second half of both the song and the album. Followed by the quietly electronic Through The Glow, the centre section of the disc isn’t always so wonderful, but adds to the overall sense of slightly edgy relaxation. At least one of the highlights is bundled straight after: Cool Water is musically, lyrically and generally wonderful – like Galaxies it’s got flesh, it’s got some meat to it, and so it’s certainly a good one to hear on it’s own. This opens a trio of wonderful songs, Spelunking’s lyrics and Black Gold Blues’s angry, powerful vocals and pounding music setting up a great end to the album. The latter track has the best vocal performance from Veirs, and could be a candidate for the best song on here, as well.
The album shiffles slyly to a close with Where Gravity Is Dead and Lake Swimming, two songs that really mellow out the atmosphere felt throughout; I wouldn’t say it’s much of an album to rock out to, or to exorcise demons with, nor even seduction music, but play it in spring, summer, or autumn, when you can open the windows, let in the sunlight, read a book and eat an apple. Bung it on your MP3 player, sit under a tree and let nature envelop you, for this is true chillout music.