The difference doesn’t stem from a particularly odd voice, quirky noise or twisted arrangements (most of her work is conventionally pleasing to the ear), rather it is as if she had been elsewhere, ignorant of modern trends in ‘Americana’ and ‘Chamber Pop’, and then here, with a new album that’s real, present and distinguishable. If there’s a thread of musical derivitive, it’s a stitch in time to Randy Newman or perhaps The Eels.
Her albums of clean, melodic, piano driven songs that create a series of scenes, many of them with dark lyrical undertones disguised (or perhaps refectively brightened up) by her tunefulness. So on the first listen songs often seem cheerful, even jaunty— the hooks and melodies catchy enough to quickly become familiar, but there’s little hit material in her, no sloppy emotional lyrical tugs. Instead it’s intelligent, deep insightfulness— the stuff of contemplation not pop.
Taylor Brown’s last album Susan Storm’s Ugly Sister and Other Saints and Superheroes
(Cutthroat Pop, 2009) was built around a curious theme of superheroes and religious icons, and although a very good album, it suffered slightly as a result. The writing on her, apparently unthemed, new album World So Sweet (Penury Pop) is free-ranging and skilled. Having the intelligence and nous to make keen observations is one thing, writing it to have nuanced and plural meanings is a welcome cleverness, and distilling it all into catchty and interesting tuneful songs is a real talent.
Take the song “Taxidermy,” which opens with the line “You got me, you shot me and will you hang my head/ on the wall of your kitchen, or over your bed?” followed by “When there’s nobody looking will you pull up my lips/ in a snarl? I’m a ripper, I’m a permanent fix.” The tension between the literal meaning and the sexual dysfunction is set against a sweet toned delivery which, in itself, is superbly judged for being understated rather than sarcastically delivered.
The album is full of gems that can be enjoyed for melody and beat or sustain the urge for a deep listen: I wonder if anyone has ever written such a wrenching, brilliant song to someone dying as “Joe/the Sacred Remains,” while avoiding the typical sentimentality that could have watered it down.
This is the album of a songwriter and performer who has reached a level few will, I highly recommend it.
MP3: Rachel Taylor Brown- “Taxidermy”
Rachel Taylor Brown plays a release party for World So Sweet Friday night at Mississippi Studios with Brothers Young and Michael the Blind.