Christy & Emily No Rest

[Klangbad; 2010]

Styles: classical piano, songstress, post-folk
Others: Faust, CocoRosie, Maria Taylor

Considering the résumé Christy Edwards and Emily Manzo bring to this, their third studio album, No Rest should probably be a lot more likable than it actually is. I mean, Hans Joachim Irmler of Faust produced it, for god’s sake. Manzo is an Oberlin-, New England Conservatory-, and Columbia-trained pianist, and Edwards has been in a slew of respectable New York bands (including one called The Lil’ Fighters with the keyboardist from The Walkmen). Both tutor high-schoolers on songwriting. They seem to deserve to have made an amazing album.

But what they’ve made smacks of two extremely talented people crafting with great care something that just barely misses the mark. Having been raised on the likes of The Indigo Girls, Bonnie Raitt, and Rickie Lee Jones, and later nursing an embarrassing love for the Sarah McLachlans and Jewels of the world, I’m all about some women who play and write like men, whose vocal interplay hangs out sort of permanently in their upper register, whose instrumental skill is as important to the feel of the album as the lyrical writing and delivery they bring to it.

Christy & Emily, in many ways, fit positively into this category. Their work wields an attractive darkness, aided greatly by Manzo’s chocolatey piano playing and Edwards’ serious, low electric guitar. Each song betrays an individual creepiness or nostalgia different from all the rest. The eerie, wide-interval vocal harmonies in leadoff “Beast” communicate something wholly separate from the inevitability found in the anthropomorphism and wobbly Wurlitzer of “Here Comes The Water Now.”

In fact, every instrumental decision the duo makes is something I’d stand up and applaud; Irmler’s deft production is nothing to sneeze at, either. No Rest, in that way, mixes the perfect amount of seriousness and detachment with the adamant and the white-knuckled, both committed and reserved. The problem enters — and it’s a big problem — when the lyrics begin. It’s not that they’re un-poetic (though they do come off a little obvious at times); it’s that there’s something fundamentally wrong with the lyrical phrasing. It’s like threadbare fabric stretched futilely over something lumpy, or like trying to wrap up a plate of leftovers with too little aluminum foil: what was once neat and self-contained rips, and suddenly there’s chicken all over the floor.

Take “Firefly,” for instance; Christy & Emily have gifted the song with an absolutely gorgeous, high, neo-classical piano ostinato over resonating bass and emotive guitar. Were it just an instrumental composition, I’d be wholeheartedly on board, but the refrain “I cannot catch you, I cannot find you” repeatedly rocking back and forth becomes so redundant and increasingly awkward that it almost nullifies the beauty of everything else going on. Or perhaps the best example of this, “Little World,” features slowly-delivered, somehow limping lyrics on top of gently noodling guitar: “What if there’s no fire where there’s smoke?” The song’s path seems predictable, and its centerpiece — the vocal melody — sounds as though it was haphazardly slapped on top of an already-complete composition. Maybe it was; Christy & Emily’s instrumental abilities could be working against them in this way. Likewise, other supremely uncomfortable tracks, including “Guava Tree” and “Idle Hands,” make me fidget nervously in my chair, not just at my dislike of the songs, but with my inability to describe what exactly bothers me about them.

A final thought: as always, knocking any band for what it rips off is an exercise in futility. There’s nothing new anymore in music, just ways of rearranging or reimagining. Christy & Emily admit readily, for instance, that they borrowed the chord progression in their song “Amaryllis” from classical composers Robert Schumann and Franz Liszt. Unexpectedly, though, “Amaryllis” proves to be one of the best moments on the album, kinetic and rolling, full of momentum in a way that the phrasing on the rest of the record prevents. Reverence certainly isn’t a liability for Christy & Emily; that No Rest comes so close to being great is off-putting in a way that makes me much grumpier than when an album has nothing at all to offer.

Links: Christy & Emily - Klangbad

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