Lucid Culture

JAZZ, CLASSICAL MUSIC AND THE ARTS IN NEW YORK CITY

CD Review: Caithlin De Marrais – My Magic City

This is a wonderfully greycast autumn album:  glistening, pensive, apprehensive, tersely and evocatively detailed. Caithlin De Marrias was/is Rainer Maria’s bassist and frontwoman and while that band was one of the better indie acts of the 90s, it’s awfully nice to see her reach for new heights here and grab them with an understated grace. Her vocals are casual and confident with just a tinge of breathiness, often with nice harmonies. The cd, deliberately recorded with little rehearsal so as to get the most inspired work out of a stellar supporting cast, achieves a darkly luminous feel. The obvious comparison is Nina Nastasia, but less stylized, with distant echoes of Aimee Mann or maybe Mascott’s recent, excellent work. The backing band share De Marrais’ obvious preference for the spare and stark, particularly drummer Konrad Meissner, electric guitarists Bob Buckridge and Rainer Maria’s Kyle Fischer as well as Lauren Balthrop (of Balthrop, Alabama) on acoustic.

 

The opening cut, Voicemail, sets a tone of disquiet over a staggered beat spiked with piano and subtle reverb guitar. The next track, Outer Space Is Still Sexy, is the best one on the cd, rich with unease and a longing to escape. De Marrais paints an evocative afterwork bar scene (Pete’s Candy Store, maybe?), sardonically noting the “building all over the neighborhood…building a wall just to keep your stray dogs away.” The band wrote the next cut, The Cottage, on the spot in the studio, improvising as they went along, De Marrais included:

 

Banknotes and beach chairs

Here come the movers

Great men with iron in their arms

Pack me up and put me on the shelf

OK, the wheels are set to turn

 

As the song moves along, De Marrais toys with the lyrics with the same playful approach that her backing band takes with the tune. If not for its minimalist arrangement, the direct, plainspoken Play Fair could be a Laura Cantrell song, an accusatory swipe at someone who’s just walked out of her life without a word, accentuated with pretty electric guitar arpeggios. After that, there’s Sparrow, with its echoey, disembodied vocals and slow acoustic trip-hop beat.

 

Animals swings along on a backbeat, a little torchy but still wary, acoustic guitar flavored with piano:

 

I see animals in your eyes

Strange and dangerous we collide

The weight of the world no longer stands between

A beautiful girl and her dream

 

The stately 6/8 ballad The Fire layers slow, insistent broken piano chords over a simple tom-tom beat, maintaining the suspense: “Bells ring out in the distance, are they for us? No they’re not…”

 

Alexandria is a country shuffle about a wonderful summer that didn’t go as planned, more upbeat musically than anything else here. “How was I to know that I would wait so awfully long?” De Marrais laments at the end as an accusative choir of voices echoes her resentment, Meissner winding it up with a big cymbal crash. After that, the bouncy Around the Serpentine echoes the summer-that-wasn’t feel. The cd ends with the comforting, resolute April You Changed Your Mind, De Marrais reaching out to a troubled friend:

 

You’re staying here with us tonight…

If you ever feel alone again just call me

I’ll walk you home…

Take a song, learn the lines and sing it sweetly

 

Like so much on this cd, the song has a knowing feel: it could well be a chronicle of actual events from the recording session. The whole album is best enjoyed on headphones, late at night. For a revealing glimpse of how it was created, Caithlin De Marrais plays the Mercury Lounge on Dec 6 at 7:30 PM on an excellent bill with El May at 8:30 and eventually Shelley Nicole’s Blakbushe at 11.

December 2, 2008 - Posted by | Music, Reviews | , , , , , , , ,

2 Comments »

  1. Play Fair was actually written by Bob Buckridge, the guy playing chimy electric on that track. Bob, a 50 yr old songwriter who works full time in a foundry and self released 7 albums or so, lives hundreds of miles from Caithlin in Ohio, and works only on 4 track cassette, so Kyle had him record his part on a tape and mail it to Brooklyn, then synced it all up.
    Some fun trivia for ya there….

    Comment by Chris | December 3, 2008 | Reply

  2. that’s really cool, he’s an excellent player and a good songwriter too. makes me want to check out his solo stuff, thanks!

    Comment by delarue | December 3, 2008 | Reply


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