Lisa Papineau Night Moves

[Lunaticworks / Sony BMG; 2006]

Styles:  electronic
Others: Björk, Barbara Morgenstern, Ellen Allien, Juana Molina

For a singer with a voice as alluring as Lisa Papineau’s, it would be easy to record a lot of pretty, rote love songs that make no attempt to do anything but sit still and look nice. I have respect for an artist like Papineau, who is willing to integrate a host of eccentric, mobile elements into her music, elements that often divert the listener’s attention from her greatest asset. This is a risk, and, in the case of Night Moves, a largely successful one. The record is indeed full of shadowy maneuvers, navigating shifting emotional territory that requires an artistic guide who boasts as much confidence as cunning. Papineau has both, and although this debut solo effort has some patches that are a bit flat, it has me excited to see and hear where she wants to go next. Woman’s got imagination.

The production throughout the record is smart: both intelligent and chic. The wholesome tone of elegant guitar figures is often matched by finely sculpted snare and cymbal hits from drum machines. It takes time and a lot of attention to detail to create a sonic juxtaposition like this: two very different machines pressing, gently, into the same tonal space -- a sweet technological kiss. Papineau’s voice floats from channel to channel, ingeminates in a chorus of identical tracks, or disintegrates in rough patches of distortion. Elsewhere, less harmonious contrasts are cleverly exploited: Nintendo synth noodlings segue into a series of handclaps (real claps from real hands) or an untreated chorus of voices. These arrangements instantiate a mood somewhere between those usually found on records from El-P and Nathan Michel. Acrid futurity, playful poppishness, and elusive sadness make themselves audible in both the peculiar palette of sounds and Papineau’s direct lyrics: “What are we waiting for?” “They always end up laughing/ I don’t mind.}”

Night Moves serves as proof that Papineau is capable of far more than the occasional cameo on an Air track. Her investigation of the evocative tension between human and machine places her in a league with Björk and Ellen Allien, although her work is less theatrical than that of the former and more diffuse than that of the latter. Like these contemporaries, she takes the time to explore texture and timbre as much as expressivity and lyricism, and the results are consistently engaging. I look forward to more.

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