BIG TAKEOVER--JACK'S TOP 40
When it's not broke, don't fix it. The second Places LP contains similar joys as their debut, The Autopilot Knows You Best, and main-Place Amy Annelle's solo LPs, and this might be her best work yet. Annelle has a voice that does not match her gaunt build; it's full, gracious, and breathy, and captivates like the best of lullaby sirens. Impressed critics trip over themselves to compare the lush, hauntingly atmospheric chamber music she makes to Cat Power's Chan Marshall, Nick Drake and Elliott Smith (she's also from Portland), and more imaginatively, The Spinanes. But even if she didn't cover such eclectic greats as Syd Barrett, Ronnie Lane and Roy Harper in the past, and The Dreamies here (this supernatural version of "Program Ten" is a huge highlight), a much more precise comparison might be to say she is a warmer, less cold and naked, long-delayed Answer to This Mortal Coil. Like former 4AD label honcho and TMC mastermind Ivo Watts-Russell, she knows both her music and literature, and can translate the warmth and glow of life she finds in the best of both. It's stamped on her work, in the flickering glimmer of Call It Sleep's silky temperate guitars, light percussion, occasional strings and a sweet lap steel, a darkly romantic Spanish trumpet, and most of all, her patient, full phrasing. Her dulcet tones and impressionistic lyrics have always been a strong suit, and stirring songs like the closing "Til The Death" are no exception. This LP is just plain dreamy and beautiful. Lastly, anyone who takes the name of one of her solo LPs, A School of Secret Dangers, from one of my favorite books of all time, John Steinbeck's 1962 non-fiction knockout Travels With Charley, has my veneration. Now to check out the 1934 Henry Roth book Call It Sleep that this one got its name from.--Jack Rabid
AMY ANNELLE: press
OTHER ALBUM REVIEWS
In 1934, Henry Roth, a young and gifted writer, penned a novel about coming of age in a Jewish immigrant broken family. Because of the depression the book quickly disappeared, even though it was released to rave reviews. Flash forward thirty years when the book is `rediscovered' and republished to even bigger rave reviews, including a front page review in the New York Times Book Review, a first for any paperback. Since then the book has sold millions of copies throughout the world and has been given near classic status. The story revolves around David, a ten year-old boy who is dealing with his own views of his world through personal turmoil and phobic eyes. Flash forward again forty more years and you'll find songwriter Amy Annelle's personal tribute to the book, her quiet and pensive view of her own world. Both the album and the book share the same title, Call it Sleep.
In this second album release, Annelle is joined by members of the Decemberists, Norfolk & Western, Death Cab for Cutie, the Swords Project, The Thermals, and Maplewood, among others. Most of the songs on the record are backed by slow, hollow, jazz-like snare drum, piano and acoustic guitar. Annelle's voice is an instrument in itself, delicately weaving its way between the notes and leaving the subtle impression of peace, despite the troublesome lyrics. Lines like "You're lonely cause you're never alone" or "Who put your eye out? Who cut the lights and sent you to stumbling?"
And while the album is named after the novel by Henry Roth, I found it to be a possible sequel to The Catcher in the Rye, a piece written about Holden Caulfield's vision of life ten years after the events in the book. The sad loner using harsh words to express their vision is echoed and mirrored between the two, and both with a veneer of beauty, an idea that despite hardship and depression, life can be be beautiful and most often is. Even the last song on the album, entitled "Til the Death," a song seemingly about suicide, is a gorgeous piece of music, building and swelling after the halfway point to a heart shaking finale that would make Thom Yorke envious.
Already no, too much. Enough dust to choke all Oklahoma and blot the sun. Give up, gave too much. Lay the ghost go effortlessly with it. I fight til the death and you're next. Crash land. Escape. Pick up sounds that never got to tape. Fight til the death I'll see you in the next life. With a dull blade it could take all night.
Blonde Redhead- Misery is a Butterfly
P.J. Harvey- To Bring You My Love
Lamb- What Sound?
Graced with a fragile, resonant contralto, singer/songwriter Amy Annelle sings with the quiet intensity of a lover whispering in your ear, her lips trembling against your lobe as you drift into a fitful slumber punctured by fever dreams. The aptly titled Call It Sleep, Annelle's second release with the Portland-based collective the Places, is a narcotic, attenuated record, one that caresses you with ardent entreaties and then clobbers you with a terrifyingly offhand remark such as "Take your leave and a switchblade in case you need to cut the throat of any ghost you meet."
A fraying tapestry of vibraphone, creaky violin, brushed drums, woozy piano, and a trumpet that seems to have been kidnapped from a mutant spaghetti Western, Call It Sleep depicts a sinister wasteland where the voices of waking birds "form a warning chorus" and unspecified sickening objects grow arms and legs and, worse still, start thinking. Feedback, found sounds, random blurts of shortwave static, and Annelle's imagist shards converge in a way that's pretty and portentous in equal measure, like a baby with a black eye. The band -- which boasts members of the Decemberists, the Thermals, and Death Cab for Cutie, among other members of the indiescenti -- evokes the deconstructed postrock of the Dirty Three: Just as the songs seem close to disintegrating, they reconstruct themselves somehow, conjuring form and meaning from the fragments of Annelle's beautiful, bewildering visions.
School of Secret Dangers is the bar at which modern singer-songwriters should measure of to, a tight recording stripped down to the bare essentials and somehow managing to sound whole in every way.
Amy Annelle's second album with the places is a haunting, powerful beauty. Call It Sleep is an intimate album combining quiet yet intense songs. These are songs for people who find solace in life's unexpected trials. The Places explore themes of infidelity, isolation and escape, concentrating on truths rather than melodrama. Musicians from several Northwestern bands like the Thermals, Death Cab for Cutie and the Decemberists provide a majestic backdrop to Annelle's straightforward and subtle lyrics. "I won't hold my breath/I know what's not coming next/don't bring back to life/what you beat in the fight/be glad it's dead," she sings in "Ruined New Life". She sings about alienation without alienating her audience. Call It Sleep brings together all the ingredients for a masterpiece and luckily the Places pull it off.
The more you listen, the more you realize you've entered a mansion of shadows, hard to completely grasp but nonetheless spectacular. The mood is dark and lonely, but not without tenderness; the lyrics at first seem obtuse and poetic yet in places are as direct and harsh as they come; the songs evade genre categorization, feeling overall like sparse folk married to soft dream-pop, yet at times there's allusions to country & western, after-hours jazz, and even Hawaiian folk music. Elliptical yet emotionally overpowering once you've given yourself over to it, Call It Sleep feels to me like an album I'll love more with each listen, on to infinity.
If the Places' Call It Sleep was a soundtrack, it would belong to one of those National Geographic specials where the rose opens in slow motion, backwards, lights whizzing and grass growing. Credit is certainly due to Annelle's allies, a crew of all-stars hailing from some of the Northwest's best and dreamiest: the Thermals, the Decemberists, Death Cab for Cutie. Still, it is not unreasonable to take Annelle's voice as catalyst and translator, as a light down the album's tunnel of nightmare and habitual escape, deep cravings and dulled aches. As on the greatest of Drake and in Reed's quieter moments, the music says what the lyrics can't. Sometimes, and before the drum-brush brings you back, it's as if the headphones have grown together and Annelle is singing inside your head.
The Autopilot Knows You Best
Everything's a little better in Portland, Oregon, if you believe my boss, a transplant from that misty metro. The air is a little cleaner, the public transportation runs a little faster, the gentry is a little more enlightened, and the music is a notch higher than what the rest of the country is accustomed to. And after hearing the powerful debut album by the Places, a temporary (for now) marriage between local singer/songwriter Amy Annelle and a crew of Portland's finest musicians, I'm inclined to agree. At least, in this case.
Annelle's voice is the dulcimer of Heaven. Wrapping her borderline soprano lovingly around each individual syllable, she sounds not unlike the sweeter side of Liz Phair ("Glory," "Nashville," etc.) at times, especially on songs like "No Mystery" and "Mouth to Mouth." The complementary acoustic and clean-toned electric arrangements hint at the gentle rocking sound of swaying hips. In this sense, The Autopilot Knows You Best feels like a slow dance at a favorite dive; a sensual two-step between lovers with warm bodies and contented hearts. The overall effect is that of having a soothing and skilled pair of fingers massaging your temples.
The album commences with "Own Your Own Home" which has reappeared in my brain day after day, week after week, like an attention-starved poltergeist, since I first listened to Autopilot. Annelle charms with a haunting melody, and slaughters with lines like, "A small thing/ A whole thing/ Little flimsy parody/ What you think you know/ Think you need/ Never was supposed to be like this." The reThe rest of the album hovers at a similar caliber.
"Will Try" stands out stylistically as accomplished meditative, Southern country, but the country of Spanish moss curtains and rockers on wraparound porches, rather than pickup trucks, beef jerky and spittoons. Wisely recorded "live in glorious mono," the song is already so rich that any more gloss would risk ruining it. "The Projectionist" is an understated hymn that turns on the simple-but-wicked lyrical barb, "I couldn't fix you/ If I wanted to." A menagerie of folky instruments permeates the song, as well as the entire disc: accordion, viola, lap steel, organ, triangle, tenor guitar, and piano. Behind them all are some of the most accomplished and experienced musicians in Portland, striving to match up to the high standard set by Annelle's pipes.
Lyrics that have the ability to turn the sterile plastic disc into diary pages abound. "Love Song for a Comet" broadcasts emotion and longing into the stratosphere. The melody aches for you to understand: "So long/ So long since you've gone and oh so far away/ Out in space/ It's all wrong that you could come this far and still have nothing to say."
Elsewhere, snips of '50s documentary voiceover and disembodied samples of Merseybeat add a dreamlike sepiatone tint to the record. And the cover of Syd Barrett's "Late Night" that concludes the journey is touchingly rendered and gently bizarre.
I've never floated through an album before, but listening to The Autopilot Knows You Best, I felt as if I were buoyed on the zephyr of Annelle's ivory-pure voice, passing through the vapor of flawless, narcotic clouds of music, on my way to somewhere else: a cleaner place; a more enlightened place. A place like Portland, Oregon maybe.
each song rolls with a narrative that is both facile and experly complex, the way a back flip looks easy and elegant when executed by a seasoned gymnast. And their technique, though always true in its allegiance to melody, wanders energetically through diverse and rich sonic territory. A track like "Lazy Days and Castaways", a languid, liquid tapestry of accordion, guitar and voice over a heartbeat of percussion, is folkloric, natural like a stream. It's followed up by songs like "The Projectionist" and "Mission Impossible" which showcase The Places penchant for the slightly bizarre, mixing typical technques of pop with eerie, out of place sounds and breathy, running out of time vocals, that add texture, depth, curiosity. Amy Annelle's singing is tender and adaptive, easily transitioning between delicate serenades and bold crooning laden with charisma. They balance innovation and tradition, reinventing folk music and rock in glorious litanies that are elegant, sometimes accidental, poignant and pensive.
The title of Amy Annelle's latest solo album, A School of Secret Dangers, quotes John Steinbeck's Travels with Charley. Steinbeck wrote the book after taking a trip across the country, and Annelle's album has a similar feel: collecting eleven songs from home recordings, it takes snapshots of American scenes. With their spare tunes and elliptical lyrics, Annelle's songs are like pinpricks on a vast map.
Amy Annelle has never sung a word she didn't need. On her solo albums and in her work with the Places, she has a perfect sense of how to use silence in her recordings-- neither playing faster to fill the quiet, nor slowing down to create it. She recorded A School of Secret Dangers alone, singing and accompanying herself on guitar. Her vocals are the selling point for the album: Annelle has a compelling voice that can sound both breathy and grounded, dreamy and rough-- like having the bartender sing you a lullaby.
And the album sounds great, considering Annelle recorded it to lo-fi four-track. The ambience is intimate but wide-open, as if she were camping out in her backyard. Silence hangs behind every song, and it's a breathing presence on the quieter numbers-- for example, around the low vocals on "Ugly Stray." The only context comes from the "found sound" between some of the tracks.
Compared to the indie pop of her last album, the Places' excellent debut The Autopilot Knows You Best, these songs have simpler tunes and stick closer to country and folk. "The Birds Start Talking English," the upbeat opener, lopes along as Annelle sings about a campfire on a hillside; other songs are more dour, such as "Broke Down," about an abandoned cemetery. Annelle challenges herself to make these lyrics ambiguous but not meaningless. "We stay up all night listening to your grandpa's 78s/ Til the lights begin to glow and shadow all the lines on your face."
A School of Secret Dangers requires more attention than the immediately likeable Autopilot, but its songs get better with every listen. Their subtlety, when matched with the restraint of Annelle's performance, allow her to explore ideas that she can't approach directly. Annelle implies the emptiness around the places she sings about, and the movement of people through wide open spaces, listening to half-received radio broadcasts. And in doing so, she captures the sound of being alone.
-Chris Dahlen, February 19th, 2002
On Call It Sleep, exhaustion hangs from Annelle's voice like dust in her hair. Each ballad sounds weary to the bone, not from melancholy or a nameable heartache, but like built-up fatigue: Annelle has flopped on your couch after ten hours of crossing dry, identical landscapes, and you can't tell if she wants to talk about it. She sings in a low voice whose undertones resonate like blowing on the neck of a beer bottle. Intimate and unforced, she comes close to vanishing before your eyes: Witness how ethereally she blends into the radio static on "Program Ten". And by singing quietly, she compels, especially when she pipes up or lets the notes swell and coast, as on "Ruined New Life". Call It Sleep has gorgeous melodies and a clear sense for atmosphere, never overplaying its fragility or stifling the mood. The extra instrumentation is subtle, from the treading-on-glass vibes to the half-drowned piano on the achingly delicate "Dead Reckoning".-
Portland's Places are clearly going where their moniker implies. The Autopilot Knows You Best is a gorgeous debut from a band whose tranquil arrangements are as lush and misty as the No rthwest locale from which they originate. Singer/guitarist Amy Annelle is truly adept in her ability to construct placid, yet haunting soundscapes that effectively envelop her delicate and introspective wordplay. On "Lazy Days & Castaways," sweetly melancholic viola and black-and-blue–hued accordion suspend Ryan Stowe (ex-Slower Than) and Annelle's gentle strumming as the latter serenely reveals, "Close my eyes and see you feeling blue/ Please don't leave me perfect you." But it's Annelle's fragile vocal delivery that is the Places' most precious resource. Her near-whispers on the beautiful, country-tinged "Will Try" are as stirring as the flinch-inducing silence between a lightning flash and a clap of thunder. Additional contributions from local Portland musicians help to further fertilize The Autopilot's picturesque melodic landscape.-