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+ Various Artists - Tibetan And Bhutanese Instrumental And Folk Music, Volume 2
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+ Calexico - Garden Ruin (Review #2)
+ Calexico - Garden Ruin (Review #1)
+ The Flaming Lips - At War With The Mystics
+ The Glass Family - Sleep Inside This Wheel
+ Various Artists - Songs For Sixty Five Roses
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Mara Carlyle
The Lovely

The forthcoming single release for Mara Carlyle's show-stopping torch song "I Blame You Not" — in which her peerless voice swoops over wails of musical saw and a piano motif "borrowed" from Schumann — will come as an EP called I Blame Dido. We're to read from that, perhaps, that Carlyle hasn't found the world so welcoming to her solo debut. Blessed with such a graceful voice, on an album working with delicate flickers of programming and sweeping strings and glissando piano, Carlyle — having collaborated with Plaid, Max de Wardener, and Herbert in the past — has probably found herself shepherded towards what's left of the trip-hop flock by those who listen to music like sheep, the leader of such a herd, these days, being Dido, I guess. Whilst I can understand the desire to gather tastefully-pretty-but-kinda-prosaic discs together, to hem Carlyle in in such a pen is like sending the lamb of God to the slaughter. The truth of the matter is that her purely divine debut disc is absolutely poetic, going so beyond the Lovely of its The Lovely title to some beyond-pretty place where loveliness and prettiness are equal to the most astonishing profundity. Carlyle's songbird singing is not just pretty and lovely, strictly audio-decorative in that trip-hop-ist sense (and sensibility), but physical and tactual and sensual and so riddled with emotion, emotional not just in a personal way, but in that way that a torch singer should be able to sing life into any standard. And the life she sings into her own songs — all authored, arranged, and produced by her, with just a bit of help from Plaid, de Wardener, and, uh, Schumann and Mozart — is absolutely alive, living and breathing in her vocal exhalations, the purity of her vocalized voice contrasting with the constricting of her throat, the squeeze of her lungs, the expansion of her diaphragm. All these things are kept audible as Carlyle, in true school-of-Herbert fashion, mics her mouth ever so close, and keeps all the "life" — breath, saliva, unsticking lips — in and around those moments of singing. And, boy, can she sing; the multi-tracked a cappella "June 15" is a gorgeous lament, "Bravely Born(e)" a hymn of reassurance, "Bonding" a ballad burning with conflicting desires of independence and devotion (the album devoted to her husband, "who puts the stars in my eyes, the moons in my nails, and the sun in my belly"). And it's not just the sad songs that say so much; Carlyle's voice seems even more irrepressible and irresistible in the disc's more "upbeat" numbers. The exuberantly electronic pop song "Lost to Sea" finds her recalling a dream of drowning in lyrical poetry — "I was tied to the land/ But I tore off my skin/ And threw myself in/ And I tried to sew stitches to the waves/ And screamed that I would save you" — as the song rises on swells of busy programming, battered drums, splashed cymbals, and churning church-organ. And, then, the disc closes with two playful, powerful songs: "Baby Bloodheart" sending Carlyle's caroling pirouetting through pizzicato strings and thrummed ukulele; and, then, "For Me" finding a finale that gives us the most beautiful vocal performance on a disc filled with them, Carlyle hitting literal and aesthetic heights as she sings a plea for a moment to be frozen forever; her sublime singing an attempt to recreate the perfection of a treasured instant. In evocation of such perfection, it's a perfectly fitting end to a disc that comes dangerously close to being perfect.

by Anthony Carew

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