Wine Dark Sea
by David Chiu
These two artists may not have much in common stylistically, but their recently-released records are nothing short of challenging and compelling with the ultimate result together is something quite satisfying– making them two of the stand- out records of this year so far.
Brooklyn artist Jolie Holland returns with her sixth and latest studio recording, Wine Dark Sea, a work that is so steeped in atmosphere and imagery, evoking the old South in some respects through elements of jazz, blues, folk and country. Most of the tracks on the new record are like modern-day torch songs evoking moods of regret, melancholy and romantic longing — from Saint Dyphna (with that lyrical refrain: “Do you mean to break my heart?” ) to “The Love You Save,” through the sinister, sexy vibe of “Dark Days” and the haunting “Out on the Wine Dark Sea.” Yet through the world-weary murky point of view are silver linings including the whimsical and romantic “All The Love” and the uptempo “Waiting for the Sun,” the latter reminiscent of a Stax-like Memphis soul song with some stirring electric guitar. Adding to the sweet gloom and doom are Holland’s vocals, heavy the sultry factor with a bit of anguish and tension – like Patti Smith meeting Billie Holiday. Like the music of Tom Waits, Holland’s repertoire is a valentine to all the beautiful losers and dreamers out there.
On the other hand, Merrill Garbus, the driving force behind Oakland’s tUnE-yArDs, takes a more direct, in-your-face approach, as evident on the band’s third record, Nikki Nack. Its music is marked by dissonant electronic sounds; assaulting polyrhythmic beats and percussion; hip-hop, funk, dancehall, and African influences; and Garbus’ very soulful singing voice. According to a recent press band bio, Garbus visited Haiti and also studied Haitian drumming and dance, so it’s no surprise that those experiences informed the music. There’s something definitely something assertive and celebratory on a majority of the uptempo tracks like “Water Fountain,” “Find a New Way,” “Left Behind” and “Manchild”; the very catchy “Stop That Man” arguably has a Top 40 sound that could well as suit Katy, Gaga and Miley. Somewhat of a departure from the rest of the album is “Rocking Chair,” a rootsy and bluesy folk number reminiscent of something that Alan Lomax might have recorded down in the South. To casual listener like myself who is just getting into tUnE-yArDs, Nikki Nack is a bit all over the place– but yet in a brilliant and cohesive way,