Poison and Snakes
I've found that underground rock tends to be a somewhat reliable barometer of things to come about 5 years down the line. Take the angular dissafection and confusion of the late 80's when REM was indecipherable and the Mission of Burma guy and Bob Mould hadn't rocked themselves into tintinitus yet. The comfort with confusion was a healthy bellwether for the somewhat non-turbulent 90's, where it appears our personal need to control the universe was put on the backburner in order to reap the benefits spilling out of the chaos. The highly emotional and frenetic declaration of The Get Up Kids and all those emo bands with awkward names so poular with the kids at the milllenial odometer rollover was an indication of the era of righteousness we have now, except where the cardigan and hornrim crowd was hollering for love and acceptance, the button down neo-preppy majority is defnding their tower with the same zeal.
So, assuming this cultural timeline holds any water, we are expecting a next pentade of competent understanding and tranquility given the current proiferation of carefully crafted calmly Baroque music. From the campfire-storytelling of Iron and Wine to the serialist documentaries of Sufjan Sevens, there are a number of artists that are dressing up their anguish in ornate instrumentation, relaxed atmosphere, which is a welcome sight for these sore headphones. Liz Janes, and unwitting protoge (her tape was slipped to Stevens without her knowing it, by her future husband) of the aforementioned Stevens, is one of these artists, penning up her odd tales of anxiety in fences of brushed drums, ukulele and resplendent horns. Her voice runs the gambit from kd lang post country chantuese on the daydream of "Ocean" and the even fuller dream of "Deep Sea Diver" to ambitous and confident on the brilliant horn infested "Wonderkiller" which has one of the best executed soft-quiet dynamics between the verse and chorus I've heard in quite some time.
In fact, the only time the costume changes doesn't really work for me is on the decidely rockier "Streetlight" but this is merely a bump on this stone-cobbled misty lane. The distant ghost-of-Patsy-Cline vocals meshed with ukulele on the title track are warm and haunting, and then the whole orchestra at her disposal (harmonicas, warbly guitars, crescendos of sympathetic drumms) rushes in to hold our girl up on their shoulders and waltz her around town. There is a delicious cinematic feel about this record, where she trades in some immediately familar situations only to explode them in the "Magic Hour" that is understated production. The sound of this album cilminates in the spectacular "Desert" where low strings, chiminng guitars and pianos and a chorus of voices bouyed aloft by an echo chamber horns wrap clean around you. I'm sure this thing of the well-crafted atmosphere is a fad and we will be shocked awake some klangy political business harbinging The Revolution, but until then, I'm happy to daze in the spiderweb hammock of this beautiful music.
Alex V. Cook listens to everything and writes about most of it. His latest book, the snappily titled Louisiana Saturday Night: Looking for a Good Time in South Louisiana's Juke Joints, Honky-Tonks, and Dance Halls is an odyssey from the backwoods bars and small-town dives to the swampside dance halls and converted clapboard barns of a Louisiana Saturday Night. Don't leave Heathrow without it. His first book Darkness Racket and Twang is available from SideCartel. The full effect can be had at alex v cook.com
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