Gregory and the Hawk Leche

[Fat Cat; 2010]

Styles: indie folk, acoustic
Others: PJ Harvey, Joanna Newsom, Frightened Rabbit

Meredith Godreau embodies that girl every kid’s always wanted to find himself sitting behind in class. The upstate New Yorker is the creative force behind Gregory and the Hawk, and on Leche, she suffuses that common memory with all the perplexity and romance of a passed note. 2008’s Moenie and Kitchie was a monotonously saccharine thing, despite a smattering of good songs. Leche, her third album and second for Fat Cat, reveals a more adventurous songwriter, bending the song forms and lacing the lyrical matter with darker themes.

The first song speaks to the feeling of the whole album. It begins, “I really want to find a bar/ And mix the fear up with a friend/ Plant a [joke?] kiss on your arm/ And give you skull tattoos in pen/ I want to know, do I dance inside your head?” There’s a certain adolescent listlessness that stops well short of devotion, and it’s a refreshing break from the dull candor of most singer-songwriters.

On “Over and Over,” Godreau’s delicate voice seems to lag behind the electric piano interjections and a threatening, fuzzed-out guitar part to add to the sense of exasperation, as she yawns, “Over and over/ Over and over.” “Leaves” begins as one of the odder numbers, with a heavy beat, backing chorus, and medieval-ish harp line that smacks of Joanna Newsom. The multi-layered vocal acrobatics featured at the end of both songs showcase the upper range of Godreau’s skillful voice.

Godreau writes that the album focuses on travel, “observing many different places, people and behaviors, but always from a detached perspective.” That kind of pigeonholes one’s understanding of the songs, but if that’s her stated goal, there’s no question that she reached it.

On “A Century is All We Need,” she begins, “Give it like it’s meant for me,” as the song floats through an ostinato, threatening to percolate into louder territory, but stubbornly only hinting at it. Being a tourist has never felt quite so estranged. But to find Cutting Crew buried in the second half of the album is kind of like watching Joan Baez break into a surprise cover of “Safety Dance.” It’s a neat idea, combing the too-familiar words “I just died in your arms tonight” with a finger-picked guitar and low susurrating vocalizations, but the song is over too soon to make any sense of it.

An album focused on aloofness is noteworthy within a genre whose currency is intimate detail. But it runs the obvious risk of feeling aloof to the listener too, making Leche a reflexive listening experience somewhat analogous to Brechtian theater. Godreau has left us behind with a strange, distantly familiar set of songs, and like the characters of those songs, she offers no comfort. On “Geysir Nationale,” she sings, “The waves will watch you go.” She’ll already be gone.

Links: Gregory and the Hawk - Fat Cat

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