The Golden Record
Styles: orchestral space-folk, experimental baroque-rock
Others: St. Vincent, Blue Roses, Bachelorette, Bell Orchestre, Joanna Newsom
Maybe you’re like me and somewhere toward the end of 2011, the knee-jerking snobby side of yourself felt disenchanted by the spin and swell of sycophancy for the cool-weird, the hip-acerbica, the beautiful-snarl of indie songstresses like St. Vincent or tUnE-yArDs; those big, glossy, ad-packed zines got it, they seemed to down with it, they’re (trying) to speak your language.
I tire of these halfhearted, quick/dirty, faux-edgy-airings from jittery music journos prattling on about -the beautifully-haunting, -the elegantly-caustic, -the pretty girl making scary sounds. Perhaps my (and your?) antidote is one Laurel Sprengelmeyer, a.k.a. Little Scream, as she plants her own distinctive feedback-furled flag of orchestral-psychedelic arias into the thickly snow-blanketed hills bordering Montreal. The Golden Record aims to flush some color out of what is, at its heart, a considerably wintry batch, but there’s no frostbite. It’s not so alienating in its eclecticism and never trying too hard to be abstruse; it’s just charting cozy middle grounds of dirgey, growling guitar rock, modestly mystic folk trips, and ornately brushed baroque-pop, all of it wound, rewound, and refracted by her breathy, blustery voice.
Those vocals come in at the start of “The Lamb” as, at first, a chilly introduction, wispy wails that tense your shoulders but seem to widen your eyes like any other refreshing yet unforgiving gale at first light on a snow-dusted winter’s morning. And, so, yes, we’re in for an evocative ride, to be sure, if I’m able to get that much from just three seconds; even before that low, warm bass starts steadily marching things forward and her reverb-dipped guitar jangles away, it’s her voice, her voices crashes up, soars, and barrels down into swooning chants, bolstered by the thrum of her multi-tracked vocals.
And yes, expect more evocative-ness to persist throughout the record, à la those lightly-fuzzed, big booming anthemic motifs (clattering together a crispy groove along with that humming bass and prettily-plodded piano melody on “Cannons”), as Sprengelmeyer’s debut was produced with Richard Reed Parry (of Arcade Fire and Bell Orchestre) and features contributions from members of fellow Montrèalitès from bands like Stars and Thee Silver Mount Zion.
Those gnarly guitars, fuzz-burst drums, and detached, atonal-flits through B-sections are never so imposing as to distract from the inherent charm of Sprengelmeyer’s voice and the predominantly folk-leaning aesthetic. Anyone can sidle up to the softly crackling bonfire of “Heron and the Fox,” an acoustic-led, harmony-heavy lullaby that’s simmering, close to spilling forth into being a ballad, and yet lilts along, dusky and dazzling, staying a stargazer’s serenade, with cooing winds, shuffling guitars, and a goosebumped gathering of backup vocalists.
That lilt — a dreamy, acoustic showered lilt — may drain on a listener during some of the songs where our aural air balloon detaches a bit and flits upward into the shadowy stratosphere of ambient space-folk sensibilities; and perhaps her airy, whispery vocals will start to make your ears itch at just how airy and whispery they can be, for some verses. But as a palate-cleanser for those of us jaded on the overplay of St. Vincent or even the theatrico-folk-foray of Arcade Fire-esque energies, The Golden Record is sufficient and at its best sublime. At its worst, though, it’s drifty, gossamer, and chilly. And at its happy medium, an interesting blend of evocative, earthy, baroque-adorned rock, scuffed with an experimentalist’s bent, warbled by a space-rocker’s headiness, and adorned with that alluring voice that is, inevitably, haunting and beautiful, warm and chilly, all of those nonsensical phrases that you were already tired of by the end of last year. Pardon.
01. The Lamb
03. The Heron and the Fox
04. Your Radio
05. Black Cloud
08. People is Place
09. Red Hunting Jacket