lisa germano / magic neighbor reviewan unexpected amount of light is now filtering into her creaky, melancholy, and decayed little sonic snow globes...
Lisa Germano, "Magic Neighbor"
Written by Anthony D'Amico
Sunday, 20 September 2009
A new album from Lisa Germano is always a noteworthy event, as each of her
periodic hiatuses has threatened to be a permanent one. Magic Neighbor,
Lisa's first new album in three years, shows that an evolution has been
occurring during her recent silence: an unexpected amount of light is now
filtering into her creaky, melancholy, and decayed little sonic snow globes.
This shift in direction, however, is still in a bit of an awkward stage.
In Michael Gira’s description of Magic Neighbor, he mentions that it reminds
him of early Disney songs. Despite my longstanding love of Germano's work
and my intense antipathy towards all things Disney, I have to agree with him
a bit. This album seems like it could have been a soundtrack to a movie
(perhaps about a very sensitive and lonely unicorn) that had to be scrapped
because the music made all the children in the focus groups cry. This odd
association is largely rooted in Lisa’s conspicuous new divergence from
traditional pop song structures, as many of the songs here do not follow a
regimented verse/chorus trajectory. Instead, chorus-like interludes seem to
burst forth from Lisa’s murky, baroque, and eerily carnival-esque ballads at
seemingly arbitrary and unexpected times.
Of course, all of the things that make Germano such an endearing and
idiosyncratic artist are still here: touchingly melancholy and smoky vocals,
gauzy and dreamlike production, sprightly pianos tinged with sadness, and
beautifully arranged strings. However, there are also several new elements
that don’t quite work seamlessly yet, such as a propensity for plunging into
cheery major key passages and the aforementioned diffuse structure. Also,
Magic Neighbor suffers a bit from a lack of characteristic bite, dark humor,
and nocturnal surrealism (though both “Suli-mon” and the title song get a
bit mind-bending at times). The songs that work best are those that remain
most firmly rooted in her past work, such as “The Prince of Plati” and the
aching, wistful “Snow.” Much of the remainder of this rather brief album
has the feel of a drifting series of interludes, so individual tracks don’t
stand out much. It is rare for an artist's work to become less accessible
at the same time that it becomes less emotionally uncomfortable, but that is
exactly what has happened here.
Magic Neighbor is an intriguing and generally pleasant experiment, but there
is nothing here besides “Snow” that comes close to standing with her best
material (I don’t think I have been let down by one of her albums since
1996’s Excerpts From A Love Circus). Nevertheless, I am pleased and
relieved that she is still writing new songs and straining to expand her
sound into something new. Her previous work always felt like an ephemeral
and unsettlingly intimate glimpse into the edges of a very dark and weird
place, but it seems like that place has become quite a bit brighter as of