I don’t know if my fellow TMTers chuckled or just ignored me when I inquired if we could include Justin Bieber’s “U Smile” slowed down 800% in our year-end ballots. Of course, there’re all the usual questions about authordom and ownership and blah blah blah that really ought to be getting more complicated by now. But my interest is in how, even with the crappiest Disney-pop, listeners across the board will blithely swallow some of the most staggeringly compressed lushness that pop music has ever known. The slow version is proof, even a coefficient if that’s your thing, that arrangement density is exponentiating: a few seconds of Bieber (and a hell of a lot of music our crew likes, I hasten to add) literally contains all the majesty of a pretty darn good Sigur Rós song. The music of 2000 sounds pretty tantric by comparison. And anyone old enough to have been swept up in the ornate neo-psych of the mid- to late-90s now has a right to feel a little ripped off by their nostalgia. All of which is to suppose how Glasser’s debut LP, Ring, sounds beautiful, complex, intricate, and so on, and yet fails to actualize her.
We’ve seen a dense scribble across the Dido-Björk binary in the last decade, and for a lot of listeners and suits, the million-dollar question still plots Cameron Mesirow somewhere in that scribble: How many brownie points does she get for those coin-guzzling “wops” in the opener? Have we really had enough of pentatonic plucks? Is she an eccentric? I’m afraid that she isn’t, but there’s enough going on in these songs to spot both chaff and wheat. The sudden vocoder in “Mirrorage,” the laziest tribal simulacrum of the last 10 minutes in “Plane Temp”: these are dolloped in poor taste. But I dig “Clamour’s” little alternating free-jazz blats, sounding like someone playing “Can Can” with Magic Band marionettes tied to their fingers. An unabashed midi barbershop quartet named “Glad” serenades without overstaying its welcome. This may sound hit-or-miss, but none of these elements end up interfering with or canceling out any other; they just pile up. Her emphasis on Garageband’s role in the Apply EP was charming, but that shtick is moot now. Her whole aesthetic is more or less likable: loopy, ethereal, lush.
But never intimate. Too L.A. to be intimate, I suppose, too many piggy tastemakers’ eyes on her. “If the walls were too thin, you would break right in” seemed initially like a pretty meaningless first lyric, over a synth that alludes to something more riveting. But the way that couplet situates her, even nestles her, inside this album has only gotten more poignant. More importantly, that second-person pushes the listener out. We don’t know if we’re invited to the party when the song heaves itself into the lineage of ‘morning’ choir intros that get most people’s actual mornings hot with envy. Same goes for her experience of, um, water in “Tremel.” The song gets a good momentum going, replete with wispy overlapping “huh”s all surround-sound, but amidst her meandering lines about sliding to the child inside and the breathing of water, one might stop and wonder what the hell she’s talking about. She’s hedging her bets, knowing hers is basically nice lifestyle music and banking that anyone who listens closely will believe that she’s ‘tapped in’ to something.
The kitschy Pantheistic nonsense doesn’t bother me, I just wish she committed to it and really stuck it out there, because those themes can be intense, mesmerizing, hilarious, or just weird as all get-out. As it stands, her vocals don’t scaffold the lushness; they’re part of it, subservient. Not great territory for them; like I said before, the stakes for success and failure in these songs’ arrangements are pretty low. Even her apparent bid for Album As Unit, via stuffing fragments into the ends of songs, feels a bit halfhearted. I’d applaud her baby steps here if I didn’t have the sneaking suspicion that she’s the ‘next big thing,’ next big things getting smaller by the month and all. But that’s the worst part, for an analytic type and sound junkie, about the beautiful, omnivorous, dime-a-dozen production that so many projects have nowadays: you can never predict when someone will hear a person in there.