lisa germano / magic neighbor review...a tribute to the strength of the songwriting, Germano's use of her voice as a simple yet powerful lead instrument, and light embellishments (echo or double-tracking on the vocals, using the piano pedals as subtle percussion as in "Snow")that give the album its other-worldly qualities...
Posted by Barry
Friday, November 20, 2009
Lisa Germano, "Magic Neighbor"
It's shame that casual listeners and reviewers will hear this album and wave
it away as just another Lisa Germano album. Every review will feature at
least one Michael Gira reference and take note at Germano's signature talent
for being simultaneously twee and glum. They'll tell you that it's a nice
listen, and present a 7/10 rating to ensure that nobody other than her fans
will get too excited about it. It's really a shame, because "Magic Neighbor"
might be her best album.
Sure, it's partly Germano's fault. She's long since settled into a comfort
zone where she's comfortable playing for her small and devoted fan base and
has no interest in taking new risks to get noticed, which is why you don't
see her trying to expand into piano-led dubstep or anything.
During the album's perfectly brief 34-minute run time, she repeatedly hits
upon the magic formula that made "The Darkest Night of All" one of her very
best tracks -- the combination of angst and heart-swelling delicacy, where
the whole track floats gently by and you find yourself asking whether you
dreamed the whole thing once it's over. It's her most "4AD" album, even more
so than the albums she made for 4AD. It feels like dreampop even though it
doesn't resort to a lot of studio trickery, which is a tribute to the
strength of the songwriting, Germano's use of her voice as a simple yet
powerful lead instrument, and light embellishments (echo or double-tracking
on the vocals, using the piano pedals as subtle percussion as in "Snow")
that give the album its other-worldly qualities. In fact, it's her simplest
album in terms of instrumentation. With little more than piano or guitar
carrying nearly every track, these are almost fully formed stage-ready
arrangements for Germano's solo gigs.
The few mis-steps happen when Germano tries to be too lighthearted and cute,
but it's a pill you have to swallow when you listen to her albums. On the
title track we get the obligatory cat reference, "he must be G-d, he can
turn cats into pieces of furniture, or a couple pieces of furniture" ... OK,
she loves cats, we get it, but oh wow is that a horrible line. Even so, she
buries this song midway through the album, so it's hardly a focal point on
the record. Yeah, the sequencing here is also great, starting with the
pretty instrumental piece "Marypan" (which acts like a mini-overture),
bouncing between sombre tunes and lighter interludes like "Kitty Train", and
finally dropping the hammer with the closing triumvirate of "Snow",
"Painting the Doors" and "Cocoon". "Snow" is the album's standout piece,
with its sparse opening swelling into almost unbearable tension by the end,
reminiscent of (and comparable to) Kate Bush's "This Woman's Work" (oh yes,
I just went there, believe it, and if you play the songs back-to-back you'll
notice the similarities too). After a two minute, piano-only intro,
"Cocoon"'s refrain of "make the butterflies go away" feels devastating,
regardless of whether you take the line literally or as a plea for the
banishment of nervous feelings in the pit of one's stomach.