lisa germano / magic neighbor review...occasionally awkward intersection of intimacy and elusiveness pervades the disc, just as it pervades Germano's other high-wire-act works, but this time the end effect is oddly inviting. It's almost as if we're being allowed a glimpse into a blurry movie flickering away in Germano's head, projected sans subtitles and its plot obscured, yet somehow no less affecting for it.
[Young God; 2009]
— Joshua Klein, October 8, 2009
There's glum, and then there's Lisa Germano glum, a sort of wry reaction to
bearing the heavy weight of the world mingled with the realization that life
might not get much better. It's not totally without hope, but it is the
weary sound of real life pressing down from all sides, unfiltered through
the usual irony and dramatic stylistic flourishes. It's often not exactly
fun, either, and while Germano may rue the comparison, it's hard to jibe her
work as a solo artist with the image of her fiddling away exuberantly in
John Mellencamp's "Paper in Fire" video.
Still, that was a lifetime ago, and since then Germano has come to occupy
her own little niche. No surprise that the clouds don't part on Magic
Neighbor, Germano's eighth record, or that the woozy gloom hasn't made way
for sunbeams and rainbows. Even so, some of the gauze has lifted, especially
compared to Germano's last couple of releases. With her piano and vocals at
the fore, Germano finds plenty of room to toy with the arrangements, filling
the empty corners of each song with small but sympathetic sonic details and
a warmth and playfulness that she's not always transmitted from her
occasionally spectral remove.
"Marypan", an instrumental, begins like an overture, its questioning melody
the perfect introduction to Germano's warped but not unwelcoming world. "To
the Mighty One" features Germano teetering between childlike wonder and
grown-up melancholy, the tonal unease enhanced by wobbling organ, piano, and
what sound like outer space effects beamed in from the margins of the mix.
"Simple" continues this exploration of contrast, its almost bluesy beginning
giving way with little warning to a sprightly carnival waltz. Following
"Kitty Train", another wistfully evocative instrumental interlude, "The
Prince of Plati" resumes the bittersweet dance of innocence and experience,
with Germano occupying a tough to pin down (but no less effective) emotional
ambivalence summed up by the deceptively paradoxical line "You seem so
unhappy; I can't take that today." Which leaves Germano feeling... where?
Up? Down? It's unclear, but it's intriguing, as is Germano's decision to
bury her already mumbled, muffled, and eventually manipulated mantra-like
vocals in "Suli-mon" until she's just another layered exotic instrument.
Things are more clear on "Snow", where what could be Germano's feet pumping
at the pedals of her piano comes across like a distant heartbeat, and
Germano herself sounds almost like she's singing her near-whispered vocals
right into your ear. Elsewhere, the swirling Omnichord of "Painting the
Doors", with its surreal lyrics, may be no less strange and mysterious than
the purr of a cat, but they're just as inexplicably comforting. This
occasionally awkward intersection of intimacy and elusiveness pervades the
disc, just as it pervades Germano's other high-wire-act works, but this time
the end effect is oddly inviting. It's almost as if we're being allowed a
glimpse into a blurry movie flickering away in Germano's head, projected
sans subtitles and its plot obscured, yet somehow no less affecting for it.