Album Review

Martina Topley-Bird "Some Place Simple"

Brent Andermann
Martina Topley-Bird, on Some Place Simple, is a nebulous dichotomist chanteuse who transcends the neo-modern world pop tradition that came to be common place in the last decade. What separates her from her peers on this record comes in two parts: she has proved her vocal abilities on previous records that she has collaborated with electronic group Tricky and the trip hop master crafters themselves, Massive Attack. As a result she knows when to serve the song instead of wailing or howling like a madwoman (with two exceptions, the buzzing mantra “Too Tuff To Die” and “All Day” which rolls and crashes like a raucous marching hymnal travelling through a hazy recollection of day’s tender words and touches) or exercising her pipes in the middle of a song simply to prove that she can hit a sharp C or go five octaves above other singers.

She has “soul” because she’s trying so damn hard to express something that’s much simpler than that. While “Lying” could be cued during a realization or intimacy on an episode of Felicity, The O.C., Grey’s Anatomy, or whatever show the CW is pushing now that guest stars Mr. Rogers; Bird’s instrumental minimalism and sober vocal delivery transfigures what could have been easily shuffled onto side two of a limited release rarities and B-sides LP into an honest account of a lover’s other lover’s lament. It’s the sparse instrumentation and restrained vocal performances that keep all of these different ideas that tied together into a cohesive collection. Like any good book of short stories, elements reappear in each song that maintains a connection and relevancy to the big picture.

What makes this record work? Bird displays naivety and conviction in the same space. She knows how to separate innocence (the twinkling shine and kindergarten nap time but considerably more semantically dense all within a minute twenty “Da Da Da”) and a cultured perception (“Phoenix”, ”Orchids”, and “Sandpaper Kisses”-the reverb soaked catharsis in which Bird gives both Amber Webber of Black Mountain and Nina Simone a run for their money as both she and the guitar lines grow more and more tired and frustrated by the second and they both release the palpable tension via a mountain crushing riff and Bird desperately shouting “I want the soul of something simple/I want the soul of something simple to take home with me/the world as some place simple/it’s my home you see”) but also how to call upon each at any given time during a performance or song. What’s more is that she has this ability to marry the two emotional personalities and return back to where she was before within a minute’s worth of music like in the likely candidate for backing music in the next IPod or Kashi commercial and opening track of the album, “Baby Blue” The fact that Bird chose to end the album on a light note with the supplemental instrumental to the song “Kiss Kiss Kiss”, “Harpsichord Kiss”, instead of the painfully obvious album closer “Valentine”, proves that both she belongs to the few in pop music that believe that an album can be more than the sum of its parts and also that she subscribes to the overly used but true none the less cliché “with every cloud comes a silver lining”.

One last note: if you enjoyed Grizzly Bear’s Take Away Show performance of their song “The Knife” then you will definitely love the track “Ilyah”. This a cappella jam makes Billy Joel’s “The Longest Time” sound like a barber shop quartet of William Hung clones yelping and having a slap fight with Tusken Raiders.