NELLIE MCKAY – Get Away From Me (2004)

Review by: Rodrigo Lopes
Album assigned by: Dominic Linde

Nellie was only 21 years old in the release of her debut album, and it shows, but not in a bad way. She purposely go from one genre to another tapping on jazz, pop and hip hop with a joyful yet sarcastic attitude that carries with it how young she is. The two-part album is vibrant and quick witted and soars through a myriad of themes that goes from an obsession with herself in ‘clonie’ – where she proudly elects her clone as the best companion she could possibly find – to the dull image she portrays of a traditional marriage in ‘I wanna get married’. She has a good clear voice, and overall the arrangements of the songs are quite nice; nothing fancy, but tasteful, very ‘singer-songwritery’ if you will.

But the album is not without flaws. While I consider the CD to have very few filler songs, the fooling around with all those different styles and the mockery and cynicism in almost every lyric sometimes felt just a little bit too much, like she was trying too hard to make those transitions seem effortless and also to show how different of an artist she was.

Despite that, I found the album to be on the most part coherent, even though the themes and genres were so diverse. I think that her youth both helped and got in her way in this record. This has ‘debut album’ written all over it, it almost sounds experimental, and sometimes her inexperience ends up showing, but for me, a some part of the album’s charm was exactly there. Her goofiness and lighthearted approach makes this a very fun album to listen to. This also made possible for her to tackle deeper and more serious subjects while maintaining the carefree aura of the album.

This album is definitely not for everyone but I believe that it would resonate with quite a few people. 

COCOROSIE – The Adventures of Ghosthorse and Stillborn (2007)

Review by: B.B. Fultz
Album assigned by: Rodrigo Lopes

One of the first things I noticed was, there’s a lot going on here. Genres as diverse as indie, rap, and … opera? … are thrown together in unusual combinations. I’m not sure how well it works (it would depend on your definition of “works”) but the album is definitely experimental, and that’s usually a plus. It’s hard to describe the music specifically as this or that, so I’ll give you my take on the vocals.

Two voices dominate this — I’ll call them the “odd” voice and the “normal” voice (this band is the brainchild of two sisters, so I’m assuming they’re the two different voices). The odd voice is predominant on most tracks. It’s very odd, and reminds me of Yoko Ono a little (not a criticism and not a compliment, just a neutral observation). It’s not exactly “dissonant” but it’s definitely an acquired taste. Sometimes it approaches something ethereal and reminds me of that singer from Belly (remember her?) as well as other vocalists I can’t place. I was actually on the next-to-last song before I realized who this voice REALLY reminds me of is BJORK — sorry, I don’t know how to do the umlaut. It’s weird that it took so long to make what seems, in hindsight, like an obvious connection. But then it’s a pretty weird album (again, a neutral observation).

The “normal” voice is more melodic and more conventional, but I don’t always prefer it. Sometimes it sounds overblown and melodramatic. The normal voice is easier to listen to than the odd voice, but the odd voice is often more compelling.


Some High Points —

“Bloody Twins” stands out. Between the music box sounds in the beginning, the increasingly strange voice, and the Pink Floyd-style wind effects, it evokes a peculiar mood, even moreso than most of the other songs.

“Sunshine” has an elegant simplicity that drew me in, while the strangeness of that voice simultaneously kept me at arm’s length. A weird feeling of being pulled and pushed at the same time.

“Werewolf” reminded me of a Beck song in the beginning although I can’t pinpoint why … something about the words and how they’re sung. It’s interesting to hear this one develop, since it alternates between a “slow rap” done by the odd voice, and a more melodic / almost operatic style by the other voice. My first impression was, it sounds like it could’ve been a background song on Breaking Bad, probably for one of the more surreal or thought-provoking scenes.

“Animals” has an almost (but not quite) traditional *boom-boom-bap* backbeat, which is just different enough to be interesting. Especially when it fades out completely in the middle of the song, then eventually fades back in. It’s almost like two different songs struggling to be heard. 

“Miracle” (the last song) is hard to describe but it probably has the most curious musical structure of all the songs. I’m not sure if the album ends on the “best” song, but it definitely ends on one of the most interesting songs.


Some Low Points —

“Black Poppies” gets (more than) a little grating, mainly when the odd voice gets very high-pitched and sounds like a small child singing. It’s just too damn saccharine and this weakens the mood of the song. I don’t mind eccentric approaches as a rule, but to me, this overtly childish voice was just annoying.

“Girl & the Geese” is no more than a very short story, set to rudimentary music. I don’t always mind that — “Seen And Not Seen” by the Talking Heads does something similar and I love that one. But SANS presents a fascinating idea about gradually changing your face by changing your thoughts, set to an involving background score that compliments the words. “Girl & the Geese” is just a snippet of magical realism about people turning into geese, and the music is much more … sparse, I guess. At least it’s very short.


CONCLUSION —

To be honest I felt a little out of my depth so I briefly looked up what other reviewers said, if only to find something to anchor my thoughts on. My view comes closest to what BuzzSugar said … that the album is “well worth a listen despite its flaws.” Except I get the feeling BuzzSugar had SPECIFIC flaws in mind, whereas my general impression is much more vague. I know there are minuses to this album, just as I know there are plusses too. I just can’t always tell which is which. I’ll refrain from giving it an “X out of 10” rating because I’m probably not qualified to rate this music, if only because I’m not sure what “comparables” to scale it against. It seems to defy standard genres, at least as I know them.  

At any rate, the album was an interesting listen, and makes me curious about how the two sisters came up with this particular combination of styles.