Lucid Culture

JAZZ, CLASSICAL MUSIC AND THE ARTS IN NEW YORK CITY

CD Review: Robin O’Brien – The Apple in Man

This album is a reason why we wait til the eleventh hour – in this case, the eleventh hour of the decade – before we finalize our 50 Best Albums of the Year list. Robin O’Brien might be the best singer you’ve never heard: her recordings have been prized in the cassette underground for years. Like her previous album Eye and Storm, this new cd has been masterfully assembled layering some of those legendary vocal tracks over new arrangements with guitar, bass, some keys and percussion that manage to be lush yet austere, played by Luxotone Records’ George Reisch (AKA The Weary of Bobby Vacant and the Weary, another artist with an album high on the 2009 list here). While The Apple in Man is as dazzlingly multistylistic as her most recent effort, what may be most astonishing about it is how many other styles she tackles here that she didn’t the last time around. Is there anything this woman can’t sing? Dreampop, check. Haunting 70s-style Britfolk, got it. American psychedelic pop in the style of the decade before that, check again. Trance, you bet. The Laura Nyro-on-steroids gospel flavor that made Eye and Storm so gripping isn’t much in evidence here, but that doesn’t matter. Front and center is Hangman, an a-capella showstopper built out of layers and layers of O’Brien’s trademark vocal harmonies. Folk music fans may recognize the song as Gallows Pole, but the closest comparison might be the Bulgarian Womens’ Vocal Choir doing Bjork. With its righteous rage channeled through some of the eeriest harmonies on the album, there’s no reference to Odetta and even less to Led Zep.

The rest album veers from subtle and witty to absolutely haunted and back again. The titular Apple, a fresh and often hypnotic interpretation of the Eden myth, looms in with a disquieting feel, but it’s ultimately a celebration of freedom and liberation, its ethereal harmonies soaring over an almost minimalist rhythm section with swooping organ accents. With its sudden, playful tempo shifts, Bobby My Memory deviously memorializes O’Brien’s friendship with Bob Kinkel of Trans-Siberian Orchestra during their days as Berklee classmates back in the 80s. Julie, spiced up with just the hint of flamenco, is a bright psychedelic folk number that would have been perfectly at home on Chelsea Girl (except that O’Brien hits the notes that Nico never would have). And Reisch’s distorted guitar makes a perfect match for O’Brien’s effortless and strangely hypnotic exuberance on the following track, Gold Chain.

But the strongest songs here are, unsurprisingly, the darkest. October (click the link for the video) soars, but with a distinctly somber feel brought out with understated menace of Reisch’s orchestration. The single best one might be the even eerier Hand in the Window, O’Brien’s lower register blending ominously with Reisch’s steadily deliberate walk down on the guitar into pitch blackness. O’Brien’s intensity on the stately 12-string guitar ballad Traveller is nothing short of visceral: “Darling don’t go to sleep, there’s a way out and it’s way down,”  she intones with a Nyro-esque anguish, layers of vocals and guitar building to a creepy unresolved ending. But all is not despair: bouncing along on a nifty trip-hop groove, Mama is something akin to chamber pop meets early 80s Cure (think Faith, maybe). The cd ends on the hypnotic note where it began. This album leaves you somewhat breathless but also mystified why O’Brien never became famous. Then again, as cliche-free as this cd is, maybe it’s a good thing she didn’t. You can hear the whole thing (and buy it too) at Luxtone.fm.

December 20, 2009 - Posted by | Music, music, concert, review, Reviews, rock music | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , ,

1 Comment »

  1. I am in love with how Robin weaves in and out of the veil…. listening to her music allows me to as well!

    Just stunning work!

    Kaeli

    Comment by Kaeli | February 2, 2010 | Reply


Leave a Reply to Kaeli Cancel reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.