In the August/September issue of Interiors, Editor-in-Chief Arianne Nardo dedicated her letter at the front of the magazine to an argument for the importance of fashion and interior decoration. She wrote: “surface evaluations are deeper than they look. How we dress and how we live are among the only decisions we can make without permission. Two separate identities free from the autocratic parameters of work life (or love life), these are entirely your call.” This is, of course, patently untrue. For many people, professional and love lives heavily dictate what they wear and how they live, and we all make important decisions about work and relationships (without permission) every day. And unlike choices about colors or fabrics, these decisions can have substantial consequences.
I don’t mean to suggest that fashion and design are frivolous, however; they are a central part of everyday life. But they are subject to that life — to the personalities, functions, and emotions of those they serve. The moment they are fetishized for their own sakes or appear overdetermined — as they must in a magazine like Interiors — is, for me, the moment they shade into bad taste. When I page through a glossy design magazine, I usually see spaces that lack a human center, that look interesting rather than lived-in.
This is one way to describe the music on Cameron Mesirow’s second album as Glasser. The parallels go deeper than the fact that the record is called Interiors and is populated with song titles like “Shape” and “Design.” For one thing, the soundscapes on Interiors, which Mesirow created with producer Van Rivers, come across as self-consciously sterile and synthetic. The album is filled with cold electronic tones, skittering percussion, and only occasional ornamentation from identifiable organic instruments (like the jazzy saxophone on “New Year” or the plaintive violin on “Landscape”). In the press notes accompanying the record, Mesirow talks about how she likes “music where you’re not thinking about what a specific instrument is” or music with an “instrument-less quality.” As she did on her debut album, Ring, Mesirow also employs Eastern-sounding timbres and melodies on a number of tracks. All these various elements are arranged like a sleek showroom with smooth glass surfaces, a few international flourishes, maybe a pair of funky modernist chairs in the corner; it all sounds like a seamless, impersonal, cosmopolitan package.
If the production on Interiors is a room, then Mesirow’s vocals are, by default, its inhabitant. But she uses her big voice as an instrument of pure sound just as often, if not more, than she uses it as an instrument of communication. Throughout these 12 tracks, Mesirow yelps, chirps, warbles, and pants. When she does sing identifiable words, her lyrics are comprised of short, opaque lines about disjointed personal relations and the designed world. Here she is on the opening track, “Shape”: “My home has no shape/ Nothing to sustain me/ But it keeps me safe/ From imagined pain.” And here she is on “New Year”: “Once I crossed a man I knew before/ He watched as I waved, and I’m sure that he saw me.” In short, Mesirow’s lyrics are almost as stony and gray as the production she sings over. Ironically, the album’s sole lyric-less track, “Window II,” conveys a warmth and depth uncommon on the rest of the record.
There is also a slight element of camp to Interiors. In an interview with The Quietus in 2010, Mesirow talked about Joni Mitchell’s “Woodstock” and the “kind of desperate” wail Mitchell lets out at the end of that song. In Mesirow’s words: “the first few times I heard it I was really embarrassed. But as I listened to it more, I came to think it was really brave of her.” I get the sense that Mesirow occasionally strives to embarrass us with her own music, particularly in the mousy little sounds she emits on “Exposure” or the theatrical way she belts out the words “sweet fruit” at the start of “Design.”
“Design’s” accompanying video takes things to another level of camp entirely. As it begins, Mesirow stands alone in a crisp room, wearing a 1950s Modern dress and hairdo. She dances and gesticulates awkwardly, as her outfit and the camerawork accentuate the lines of her body. She moves about the room theatrically, at one point throwing herself onto the floor. It is both more embarrassing — and much braver — than anything I’ve heard from Joni Mitchell’s discography. At the center of the room stands a pedestal with a shimmering, amorphous metallic mass floating above it. What is this floating mass? Mesirow has said that the name Glasser came to her in “a midnight vision of a figure hovering over water.” Maybe the object at the center of the “Design” video is something like what she saw in that vision. Or maybe it represents the kind of impractical household objects you might find in Interiors magazine — “a majestic, modern tableware escapade” or a “gallant, light-filtered form” (to quote again from the August/September issue). Whatever it is, it seems both material — which is to say, something worth placing on a pedestal — and completely ephemeral. This is another way to describe the music of Glasser.