"unlike the late noughties genrists"

Music And so we return to Sarah Blasko, whose interpretation of "Seems Like Old Times" from Annie Hall I posted last week. In his email, her publicist suggests that “she's adorable and quirky and evokes references to Regina Spektor and PJ Harvey” and since that’s a description which just about fits any of the manic pixie dream girls who’ve been releasing albums over the years I was intrigued enough to cheekily ask if he would send over a review copy of “As Day Follow’s Night” so that I could hear what was really different about Blasko in comparison to the Nash, the Allen, the Golightly, Spektor or any of the other anti-folkists. Which he has. I’ll know to be cheeky more often.

I should have an affinity for the album, since, according to her online biography Blasko wrote it whilst also working on the score to the Bell Shakespeare Company’s 2008 production of Hamlet (even appearing on stage). She says: “It was good to have something alongside the album writing that had a deadline because it made me slightly more disciplined. It was sort of like exercise that kept my energy up for the task of writing the album,” she says. “When I did the performances for Hamlet over two months last year, in between the time I was on stage, I would sit at the backstage piano and write my album songs.” I can't detect any direct influences (without entering an extrapolation fantasy), this isn't a concept album but tonally (as her bio suggests), the main key is melancholic.

This is Blasko’s third album, having begun recording in 2002, the first two huge award winning hits in Australia, so against appearances, unlike the late noughties genrists this isn’t a debut album, it’s the tricky third. What that means in terms of the sound I can’t tell, having not heard the whole of the first two (#spotifyfail) the extent to which her direction has changed. Her bio suggests this is a development, but "incremental" which is intriguing, since it does at least suggest she's willing to try something different, though from the couple of early tracks it doesn't seem to be in the order of trying some entirely new sound (available at her videography). What I can say is that this is a singles album with at least four or five good tunes that could stand alone with a B and a Tin Tin Out remix.

The bouncy Hold On My Heart which has a good repetitive dance hook would work well alone and the She & Him alike Over & Over in which the trill in her voice (think Melanie) is put to good effect. It’s unfair, of course, to simply drop comparisons, but in this crowded genre, everything sounds like everything else to some degree, so it’s impossible not to. There is the suggested Spektor and Harvey influence in these eleven tracks, the willingness to mess about with unusual instruments, Blasko’s trademark it seems the musical saw, slightly mangled piano and multi-track vocals. And strings. Lots of strings. That gives it a nostalgic element, but without joining Duffy on the rap sheet and stealing Dusty Springfield’s coat.

The other point of division is lyrically; these are not narrative songs replete with pop culture references and if they’re autobiographical they trade in generalisations, only now and then, as when she asks “Is My Baby Yours?” that we wonder if there’s some tale being suggested between the lines (assuming that isn't a huge hidden Hamlet reference). There are few moments to leave you grinning at the linguistic acrobatics required to fit a rhyme around CSI or macaroni. Mono-syllables abound. Which also makes it much easier to listen to oddly which is probably why I’ve had “As Day Follow’s Night” on repeat these past couple of days.

Yet in places, she’s deeply effective. “I Never Knew” seems initially to be a standard break up song, but there’s a sense that the source of her pain isn’t even aware of her existence and that she’s actually letting go of an unrequited love after realising that she has little chance, which is something I’ve had to deal with, oh, lots of times, usually with manic pixie dream girls and assuming I haven’t misinterpreted that’s the first time I’ve heard that sentiment or something similar voiced in music since Airhead’s “Funny How” (unless I haven't been paying attention). Many of the songs, which on the surface sound fairly straightforward, contain this inner ambiguity which suggests that what’s important to Sarah Blasko is below the surface.

1 comment:

Annette said...

I love Sarah Blasko's album "The Overture and the Underscore" especially the song "Always Worth It." I appreciate her sophistication versus say, Lady Gaga.