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Lisa Germano: “Magic Neighbor”
Posted by Billy on 10/06/09
The first time I heard the ethereal, esoteric and often terrifying music of
Lisa Germano on her CD “Happiness” in 1994 (through oversized headphones
attached to my DiscMan), I was immediately addicted. Huge fans of anything
4AD, my friends and I were quick to grab up all we could as she released
four fantastic records full of isolated, Kate Bush-meets-Ian
Curtis-in-a-wooden-shack-in-Appalachia musical introspection on the British
Then Germano seemed to just disappear. I’d heard once in a while that she
was popping up here & there with some self-released stuff, but nothing ever
seemed to catch my attention the way her early oeuvre did, and I figured
she’d retired. Thank God I was wrong.
When I heard Lisa had been asked to join Michael Gira’s Young God Records
(another label for which I have HUGE love and respect), I was ecstatic. And
the first offering, 2006’s “In the Maybe World” seemed a beautiful launch
back on the same genre-defying track Germano had forged earlier, but maybe
even a little bit more isolated, childlike, while obviously the result of
This year’s second Young God release, “Magic Neighbor,” released on
September 29, is even more beautiful, and more accomplished, than the first.
And it’s true, basic beauty, full of the same intriguing combination of
beautiful composition, tragic melodies and enigmatic lyrics transport you to
a place that’s cold and alone, but also warm with familiarity. Listen to the
soft and brilliant “Snow,” and feel it for yourself:
Lisa Germano - Snow
The artwork included with both the CD and LP releases is also breathtaking,
and reflects pretty well the world I am personally transported to when
listening to these 11 new songs.
Lisa Germano Magic Neighbor Review
Album. Released 19 October 2009.
An accessible return to form from the Indiana folk singer.
Jon Lusk 2009-10-15
Despite having talent to burn and a unique artistic vision, alt-torch US
singer-songwriter and multi-instrumentalist Lisa Germano has had a rough
ride from the music industry.
After a string of critically acclaimed but under-promoted albums during the
1990s, she withdrew into obscurity, eventually re-emerging in 2006 with In
the Maybe World on Michael Gira’s Young God label. Its successor is both a
more accessible record and a return to form, once again shot through with
her trademark chiaroscuro of emotions.
As one of her biggest celebrity fans, Gira is also very articulate about
what makes her music special. “You get the feeling you’re walking through
her dreams as you listen,” he’s observed. “The intensity of feeling in her
singing is a little frightening at times.”
On Magic Neighbor, Germano accompanies her conversational/confessional
murmur with her own violin, piano and guitar, plus sparing and inspired use
of electronic effects. The only other musicians involved are Greg Leisz, who
contributes the odd twinge of pedal steel, and Sebastian Steinberg, whose
acoustic bass is the most novel contribution to the lovely arrangements.
At 33 minutes, it’s almost a mini-album, but less really is more in
She has a tendency to occasionally mar the prettiness of her music, such as
the way unsettling percussion invades A Million Times, or the subtle use of
dissonance, as on Suli-Mon, which suggests a cat skipping across her
keyboard. The music box waltz of Kitty Train is the other track that
reprises the feline references of her 1996 album Excerpts From a Love
Circus, and one of three delicate instrumental interludes.
Painting the Doors has an abstract, watery ambience that gives away the
involvement of erstwhile Eno collaborator Harold Budd. And The Prince of
Plati is another key track for its existential yearning (“Oh, can’t we be
happy / Just, just for today”) and a nagging melody that comes close to Snow
and the closing, unresolved melancholy of Cocoon for its sheer, swooning
Given the pervading autumnal mood of Magic Neighbor, the timing of its
release couldn’t be more fitting.
Lisa Germano’s Magic Neighbor Pays Us A Nightly Visit
By MrTPublished: October 22, 2009
With her ninth album released this Fall on Youg God Records, Lisa Germano shows an unwithering talent for welcoming her audience into the darkest recesses of her grounds. We do like to lose ourselves.
It is Fall already and we find ourselves gifted with a set of seasonal ballads, all resonating with the crispy clutter of dead leaves, and the insinuating melancholy of days getting shorter. A soft piano/violin intro – sort of instrumental reprise of In the Maybe World’s “Red Thread” – will guide you through the forlorn lanes. But the sun is going down now, and the Indiana singer/songwriter is scattering her scarce yet striking effects and textures through the soudscape again. Her voice, breathy, direct and unflourished, has started the confession.
Frustration, impossible love, self-loathing, addictions, broken dreams and unspoken hopes. As always with Germano, this may at first sound like the making of a self-tortured teenager. Yet this is the work of a 50 year old woman, who has now been recording and touring for 18 years. Affectively immature, maybe, a chaotic journey through the music industry, depression indeed, and known issues with alcohol. Such facts may be of little interest to her faithful but limited audience. But if you are new in the neighborhood, they can show you the way through this short album. It is night now and “The Prince of Plati” is giving you a brilliant illustration of the lady’s skills for poignant secret-telling, a little poisoned gift, delicately laid in your ear with barely any reverb to protect you. She is sweet, somehow spontaneous, but unsettlingly indecent, and the more attention you give her the more it starts hurting.
In a little time, though, you may notice that composition and arrangements are at the same more daring and more formal, slightly reminiscent of her earlier records. A bit more folk, a few more kitties on the keyboard. And you will be awarded a little recess and talk the inarticulate language of our feline companions on “Suli-Mon”, one of her most playful piece. Yes, a few tracks here may not be as strong as we would like. Take the time to catch your breath during “Painting the Door”, for it is merely one of her usual destructured-electrolayers+impro-like-singing. But before then, you will have to walk through “Snow“.
It is the dead time of night, the coldest, the darkest, or it is the snowy landscape in winter, either-or, it spreads all around, monochrome, colorless, a saturated spread of emptiness, it is sad to the point of becoming stifling, it is so quiet that it infiltrates each and every of your nerves like strings. And it does win you. So take a deep breath, as the night draws to an end, you may finally get some sleep, being lulled into a “Cocoon”, in dreams, being again drawn to a place where you can find comfort. Let’s hope tomorrow it will sound clearer to you, for it is Fall only, and the nights are getting longer and colder, and there is lot of listening to Lisa Germano to do.
(Young God Records)
US release date: 22 September 2009
UK release date: 21 September 2009
By Dave Heaton / PopMatters Associate Music Editor
— 9 November 2009
The brief music-box chime that opens Magic Neighbor works like an alert that
we’re entering a dream-space, especially since it begins a lovely
instrumental that resembles a film theme. If this is a film, though, it’s
one that exists inside our own mind, or in the mind of Lisa Germano. Her
music is internal in that way. The music and lyrics reflect the myriad
personal dualities and conflicting feelings within us all.
Over the years she has stripped away the gauzy and foggy qualities of her
music, clarifying her approach to the point where it stands out within the
music of today as possessing true vision. Magic Neighbor, more or less her
ninth album since her 1991 solo debut On the Way Down From the Moon Palace,
picks up musically where 2007’s death meditation In the Maybe World left
off, with minimalist settings, heavy use of piano, and a spotlight on her
breathy vocals. The instruments bring a balance of elements, among them the
timelessness of American song standards (piano), the drama and romance
Hollywood (rising and falling strings), and the confessional (acoustic
guitar), all qualities within Germano’s unique songs themselves.
Musically it’s more a flight of fancy than In the Maybe World, with the
unity, romantic nature, and hidden strangeness of Hollywood film scores.
It’s easy to hear why Young God Records head Micheal Gira said he is
reminded of early Disney songs and the One From the Heart soundtrack. It
resembles movie music, with circular and repeating themes, and instrumentals
that reprise elements of the song’s melodies. But more than the backdrop to
fiction this seems a very individual soundtrack to lives lived with
questions and conflicts: human beings as living musicals. When the melodies
become variations of each other, it’s like trains of thought intersecting
and diverging inside our minds.
Near the album’s beginning, “To the Mighty One” and “Simple” both stand as
internal conversations within a song. Germano bounces ideas back and forth
with herself or an unseen force, the music changing as the feelings of the
lyrics change. “To the Mighty One” is serious as she addresses a controlling
force, and then turns into dancing-on-air when she uses her imagination to
take control herself, to decide that “it’s a beautiful day” and make it so.
“Simple” alternates strident guitar-strumming with similarly dreamy music,
again tied to the words she sings. “But if I ran away…”, she starts, and the
strings enter and lift her up, like Fred Astaire dancing up the walls or a
ballet dancer twirling until her feet lift off the ground. It’s music as
expressive of our hopeful dreams as it is of our darkest moments here on the
Magic Neighbor consistently manages to be visceral and fanciful at the same
time. The haunted title track captures the weirdness of our thoughts, while
also being a political statement of sorts about violence, against animals
for example: “he must be god / he can turn cats / into pieces of furniture.”
“The Prince of Plati” is a gorgeous piano ballad filled with cutting, tender
and rueful sentiments between people.
What she sings in “Suli-Mon” sounds like nonsense, the language of
nightmares and dreams. Over lovely lullaby music, her voice twists and gets
mangled. On the piano her hands slip off and bang their way down the keys,
noises that still work as components of a melody.
That song is maybe the clearest example of how there’s invention going on
beyond just the startling and rich atmosphere established on the album. This
is fertile ground for Germano’s imagination. For its first minute “A Million
Times” seems to be one of the more straightforward songs, voice over guitar,
and then a pleasant cacophony of toy percussion begins in the background.
Germano’s violin enters at an off angle, like an orchestra warming up, while
her beguiling singing goes through the cycle of a back-and-forth
relationship, making human drama sound like a lark. The serene piano ballad
“Snow” also incorporates some off-key or at least unlikely notes, in a
typically gorgeous way. It contains the lyric that best sums up both my
reaction to her music and one of the driving forces behind her music, seeing
differently: “I love how you see things”.
Record Review by Adam McKibbin
Lisa Germano has become a remarkably solid bet as a solo artist. When her
backstory is invoked, it’s often to mention the surprise of seeing the
fiddler from John Mellencamp’s jubilant “Paper In Fire” evolve into one of
the more melancholy singer/songwriters around, her songs carrying a hazy
mixture of deep despair and distant daydreams. Of course, it would probably
be more surprising – and certainly sadder – if someone from John
Mellencamp’s band in the mid-to-late ‘80s was still writing songs that
sounded like “Paper In Fire.” If anything, Germano’s albums are quite
unsurprising these days; Magic Neighbor is every bit a natural continuation
from her beautiful and beguiling In the Maybe World (2006) and Lullaby for
Liquid Pig (2003). Who needs surprise departures when you have such a
perfectly developed sense of place?
Magic Neighbor unfurls with the soft, pretty instrumental “Marypan” – for
whatever darkness lurks at the heart of Germano’s material at times, it’s
never at the expense of warmth. When we first hear her a track later (“To
the Mighty One”), she at first sounds far away – underwater, maybe, or
perhaps even being beamed from space (there are some vaguely sci-fi noises
buried in the background, like an effect on the chorus that sounds either
like a UFO or a firework zooming across the sky). Then the arrangement
swells and her voice comes clean over the speakers, right in your ears and
living rooms, singing of a beautiful day.
Further down the line, the wistful instrumental “Kitty Train” picks up the
escapist thread from its predecessor, “Simple,” and then plunges back into
the real world of relationships on “The Prince of Plati,” in which Germano
makes like the Joker (“Hey, why so serious?” she sings). If you’re so
downtrodden that you make Lisa Germano write you a song about cheering upand
carpe diem, then… yeah, it’s time to let the sun shine a little. But thanks
for inspiring good material.
The brief album – which wraps up after just over a half hour – concludes
with plenty of momentum. The almost upbeat melody and wordless chants of
“Suli-mon” weave into the subconscious as much as anything on the album,
while “Snow” is Germano at her sparse and emotional best. In his press
notes for Magic Neighbor, Young God owner Michael Gira writes of his worry
that Germano had hid herself away for so long after In the Maybe World that…
well, who knows? Her albums seem so connected to the dreamlike state that
it seems completely plausible that someday she’d just float away altogether.
Hopefully, though, we’re a long way from waking up to that reality.
Lisa Germano: Magic Neighbour
Young God Records
By now, Lisa Germano is probably more than a little tired of being referred
to as the one-time fiddle player for John Mellancamp—especially when she's
issued eight distinctive albums of her own. Magic Neighbor, which arrives
three years after its predecessor In the Maybe World (also on Michael Gira's
Young God Records), is as idiosyncratic as the others dotting her
discography, if not even more so. Gira's observation that the songs on Magic
Neighbor suggest kinship with the One From The Heart soundtrack (featuring
Tom Waits and Crystal Gayle) and Disney songs in general seems to me
well-founded, with many of Germano's songs sounding very much like
quasi-theatrical pieces; though obviously raggedy compared to the average
Broadway tune, her songs are nevertheless as open-hearted in the way they
reach out towards the listener. Par for the bedroom recording course, the
thirty-four-minute collection exudes an intimacy and vulnerability that
makes her material all the more engaging. She builds her three-minute
settings into rich set-pieces using rickety piano, keening strings,
close-miked vocals, and a wealth of smaller sonic detail, with much of the
material resembling semi-macabre bed-time stories that have less chance of
inducing slumber as causing a nightmare or two.
“Marypan,” a beautiful, plaintive piano miniature opens the album, after
which “To the Mighty One” see-saws between episodes of melancholy cloudiness
and sunny uplift. Woozy waltz sections and tempo fluctuations in “Simple”
bring the music's theatrical qualities into sharp relief, while the wistful
and sweetly melodic “The Prince of Plati” plays like a supplication of fairy
tale-like design. Voices murmur beneath the surface of consciousness in the
spectral “Painting the Doors” and invade the listener's consciousness like
haunted spirits in the exotic “Suli-mon.” Germano's range extends from
splendid instrumental vignettes such as “Kitty Train” and the yearning
“Cocoon” to the album's most naked performance, the stirring vocal ballad
“Snow.” Gira's comment that “(t)o sit down and spend some time inside her
songs is a tremendously rewarding experience,” is, in this case, less
promotion-driven hyperbole than compelling observation.
pittsburgh daily news
(3 out of 4 stars)
From her start backing up John Mellencamp, the Indigo Girls and the eels, to her storied solo work, Lisa Germano has carved out quite a rich and fruitful career for herself. Her 10th solo album finds her as contemplative, confessional and charming as ever.
Packed with acoustics, piano, and her trusty violin, Germano doesn't stay a terribly long time (11 tracks go by in just under 34 minutes), but it's enough for her to make her presence known. For those new to her work, if you still spend long, cold nights with the Cowboy Junkies and Mazzy Star, you'll find a lot to like here, especially "To the Mighty One", where she sounds most in control emotionally; sad and regretful. "A Million Times"; and "Snow," where she lets the tone slip off kilter, just making the piece that much more entralling. (RK)