Lisa Germano | ReviewShe can unearth the darkness in the most innocuous scenes October 05, 2006
In the Maybe World
[Young God Records; 2006]
As if there was any doubt who Lisa Germano is singing to, she sets the record straight on "Too Much Space", the second track of In the Maybe World. After effortlessly painting a portrait of a jilted lover ("An illusion; it's just not true/ We've always been me and you"), she ends the track on a repeated refrain--one of us, one of us. Most folks will recognize that line from the movie Freaks, a twisted love story that turns into a tale of revenge set amongst a carnival freak show. The circus freaks--pinheads, hermaphrodites, an inchworm-like man made up of little more than a torso and a head--use this line as a disquieting rallying cry, and it works the same way in Germano's song. It's cold comfort for those that have been there to know they're not alone, even though they are. A chorus of Germanos--breathy, exhausted--against a plainly pretty piano backdrop only adds to the unsettling mood.
For Germano, this push-pull between pretty and unsettling is nothing new. Most of her songs resemble lullabies, but they're the sort of songs only Wednesday Addams would find comforting. "In the Land of Fairies" would be one of Wednesday's favorites, what with Germano affecting a deceptive sing-song cadence to talk about stupid ogres and monsters that aren't as much the stuff of the Brothers Grimm but of dementia ("Every little soul has/ Sides you've never seen"). Germano's vocal affectations--she sounds like she's waking up with a frog in her throat--also work well on "Red Thread". The potentially clumsy call-and-response chorus of "Go to hell/Fuck you" is redeemed by her self-awareness and lack of guile.
Whatever subtlety Germano's voice and lyrics might lack is buttressed by the deceptive simplicity of her music. Perhaps her songcraft is too deceptive--a casual listener might think these songs are just gauzy doodles of piano and guitar. But an attentive ear will learn otherwise. She knows when to hit a bum note, as on the flat chord struck during "Land of Fairies" or the sourness in "A Seed". She can also conjure moments of surprising beauty. The album's final track, "After Monday", veers into a tar bed of subtly distorted guitar, but then just as quickly swoops into a gorgeous piano passage. Moments like this are indicative of Germano's talent. She can unearth the darkness in the most innocuous scenes, as well as allow light to shine into the bleakest of corners, and does so while expertly straddling the line between poignant and absurd. Would that we could all be freaks like her.