Wednesday, August 09, 2006

Lisa Germano, "In the Maybe World"

Her 1993 album "Happiness" starts with more than a minute of shredding, echoing guitar noise that could have been lifted straight off a Cocteau Twins record. Well, the album *was* released on 4AD so maybe it was all part of her plan to make herself feel at home on the label. Fifteen years into her solo career, those hazy, otherworldly qualities can still occasionally appear in Germano's music. But it's not much more than window dressing on the devastating, heartbreaking feeling one gets from listening to "Too Much Space" on her newest record. Neo-shoegazing = window dressing? Yes, it's just that damn sad.

In the morning without a sound
And the stirring of dreams around
then you wake up -- he wasn't there again

Of course, it's the slight pause before the word "again" that strikes the final, unrecoverable blow.

On the way home you feel it there
cuz your heart needs to be somewhere
but you wake up to too much space again

There's an even subtler pause before the world "somewhere", but I'm sure it's mainly my imagination (wishful thinking, perhaps).

Drugstore's Isobel Monteiro makes a strong case for the sexiest female voice in contemporary music, but Drugstore haven't made a record in five years so I'm tempted to hand over the title to Lisa Germano. There are a lot of similarities between the two -- the soft, husky whisper and the way they seem to purr instead of sing when they're performing at their best. With their penchant for semi-acoustic ballads/lullabies, they're even similar as songwriters. But even though either one of them could convincingly sing the other's entire ouevre, the overall tone of these switcheroo works would be strikingly different. That is, these two singers might be similar, but they are far from interchangeable. Pixie-like Monteiro is the naughty sex kitten, the girl whose voice you lust over but whose heart you can tolerate breaking. Sure, you might feel bad about it eventually, like if you heard "All the Things A Girl Should Have" a few years later. You would trick yourself into thinking that she was a sweetheart all along, but then you'd hear the vindictive "I Know I Could" and quit feeling sorry for her altogether. One minute she's moaning your name and the next minute she's that crazy bitch who made a voodoo doll of your likeness and plans to put it on her album cover. Who needs her? But Lisa is the starry-eyed quiet girl next door, the person you want singing you to sleep every night.

"Happiness" is a schizophrenic record. Half of it is caught in this weird suspension between early-90's teenaged alt-rock and late-90's adult-oriented wannabe alt-rock. Semisonic and Matchbox Tw20enty would have been thrilled to have some of these songs on their first hit records ("Energy" or "Anyone's Victim"?). The other half consists of charred, fragile beauty, epitomized by the gorgeous closer "The Darkest Night of All"). But "Geek the Girl", released the following year, feels like an overreaching stab at fitting in with post-grunge, post-"Loser" slackerdom. Despite some fantastic songs ("Cancer of Everything"), only in 1994 could a song try to pass off "Oh no, I'm not too cool" as a credible chorus. In 1996, she inched close to her forte with the gentle "Excerpts From a Love Circus" and with 2003's aptly named "Lullaby For Liquid Pig" she perfected her "lullabies for adults" formula (bedtime stories about alcohol, loneliness and depression). She continues to exploit this formula in fine fashion with this year's "In the Maybe World", and I'm selfishly hoping that she never stops being miserable (or sounding like it on record).

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