Monday, April 27, 2009

polly scattergood by polly scattergood

I have a work playlist. It consists of sweet, lovable, but ultimately unchallenging music that I use to help me ignore my own issues, shut out distractions, and get down to business.

Polly Scattergood, with her idiosyncratic, Joanna Newsom-like vocal range, and lyrics ranging from insipid to inspired, is not on that list.

Her self-titled debut album (out in the US May 19th) is guaranteed to be a polarizing affair. Which is funny, since for the life of me I can't figure out how I feel about it. Of course, while I can't always say I "get" what she's going for, it's difficult to argue that it isn't a welcome break from safer musical trends -- even if the "quirky songstress" is starting to become a micro-trend in and of itself.

Simultaneously fragile and theatrical, Scattergood is best when playing close to her element: the self-aware, wry Bell Jar fan. While songs like the overtly confessional "I Am Strong" (sample lyric: ...I am not in a place where I can talk to you. Umm...pardon?) fall flat, her lighter, nearly humorous moments are tossed off with a certain lyrical ease, as in "Please Don't Touch" when amidst pontificating on the "sadness in the air" she confesses, ...there are lots of broken fingers in the dark parts of my room, or in indisputable album high-point "Nitrogen Pink" when, amidst several grandiose metaphors she mentions ...a pack of catsup that he spilt on his tie. After her little-girl delivery has the listener subconsciously preparing for an album of teenage-poetry, (hey I can't judge, everyone's got a volume or two shoved into a drawer somewhere), these little self-aware moments hint that there might be more to the little-girl-lost persona than meets the ear.

While the album might have benefited from a hair less lyrical melodrama, its highlights are all moments that veer toward the instrumentally over-indulgent. Centered around electronic textures ranging from "Bunny Club"'s deep-house leanings, to "Nitrogen Pink"'s Broadway-musical crescendo, melodrama wins hands down. Scattergood's mastery of drama easily overshadows the dragging organic moments of melodically unfocused "Poem Song" or plodding album-closer "Breathe In, Breathe Out."

But what does it all mean? Weird and fragile, after numerous spins I still don't always get it. And yet, I can't help but be curious to find out what Scattergood will be up to next. Judging by the her debut, her sophomore effort could bring us any number of singer-songwriter personae. It might be more polished. It might be more accessible. But the enigmatic character she's created here will never be as intriguing or honest as it is on first introduction.

mp3: "Please Don't Touch ( The Golden Filter Pop Mix)" by Polly Scattergood

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