10 March 2014 (Alligator Wine)
The metaphorical phrase “Don’t judge a book by its cover” stands as a great piece of advice on judgment by appearance of human beings, old library novels and low-cost ice cream. However, I never thought it a good approach when it comes to the neverending search that is the life of the music aficionado. There is such a deluge of good music out there that there simply must be a filter. (You can find a fantastic article on that very topic here). Personally, I have chosen album art. As superficial as that may be, I find the artwork of a record to be unfailingly decisive in how I perceive the record itself. In a way, I treat the LP as an audiovisual piece of art, one in which each medium informs the other. There is a powerful connection between the way one’s mind processes sound and the visual space the sound inhabits (and vice versa).
Anyway, this all goes to say that my favorite new way of discovering music is by scrolling through an archive of all the new music releases of the year (newalbumreleases.net) and compiling a playlist composed of every enjoyable artwork that I find. Charlotte Church’s eerily blissful cover for her new EP was one of those candidates. When her track “Death and Mathematics” appeared on my shuffle I was struck with how it managed to have a curious mix of Minus the Bear guitars and Twin Peak’s atmospherics while sounding similar to the climax of Radiohead’s masterpiece “How to Disappear Completely.” It speaks of emotional havoc and a distant calm all at once.
Intrigued, I did some research and found that this EP, Four, is quite a departure for the singer. She began as a young Christian/classical singer that moved on to pop after reaching adulthood. This varied background might explain how the brash opener “Entanglement” sounds like a mix of Evanescence and Alt-J while stealing a guitar tone straight from The Cars. In fact, this might be the most cosmopolitan release I’ve heard all year. The second track is some sexy alt-R&B a la Rhye that blooms into a funky flower of something close to disco. This moves yet again on to a vocoder-laden slow jam which starts off with a guitar section not far from Shlohmo’s work but then turns itself inside out as a blend of too many styles to even begin to dissect. In fact, the only thing truly consistent throughout Four is a clever use of guitar and ever-enjoyable songwriting. Every time I think that I’ve pinned down an artist that Church is blatantly biting she quickly adds a bundle of other elements to the mix that confuse me to the point that I concede that hers is a idiosyncratic style of composition all her own.
As a songwriter myself, I always try and obfuscate my influences with other influences to the point where my theft becomes unrecognizable, surgically attached to genres it doesn’t belong with so that it becomes a horrific beast that’s fresh to the eyes. So it’s greatly inspiring to realize there are other musicians out there using this approach to great success. The sonic blends that are forged on Four are undeniably queasy, at times feeling downright wrong at first. But this is only due to the fact that our tastes are conditioned by an onslaught of artists who only specialize in one or two genres in their entire career. To hear Charlotte Church use a meager 25 minutes to break down all these arbitrary barriers with a splashy burst of styles is a fabulous thing, indeed.
Rating: Loved It