I've been listening to Maria Taylor's solo CD, 11:11, for weeks, and the
whole time I've been hard pressed to say which song I like best. They're
all full of breathy vocals and swirling, floating melodies, and awash in
feedback: my favorite kind of music. But the night I went outside and
let the water out of my kids' wading pool, I fell in love with
"Birmingham 1982." I listened to it three times in a row as the water
slowly flowed out of the pool (and I sat on the sofa drinking a beer).
Taylor perfectly captures the idyllic side of a childhood summer. It's
not always golden; when you're in the midst of it, plenty of the summer
seems boring and, often, way too long. But listening to Taylor sing
about flashlights under the covers, raindrops on her tongue and piano
sing-alongs, my own childhood summers take on a glow. And the end of my
children's summer seems so much more bittersweet. As in most of Taylor's
songs, the lyrics are simple but strongly evocative: a catchy chorus of
guitars surrounds her memories of "Fireflies, four-leaf
clovers/ Finger-painted skin/ When life was a reaction/ And love was just
laughing with a friend."
This is Taylor's first solo effort. She's probably best known as half of
Azure Ray, and she's lent her vocals to Moby's and Saddle Creek labelmate
(and boyfriend) Conor Oberst's recordings. Like Oberst, Taylor sticks
to the quieter side of singing and songwriting, but quiet doesn't mean
weak. With her luscious compositions and melancholy lyrics, Taylor may
one day start encroaching on Chris Martin's turf. Sometimes, while
writing this review, I'd intend to play a single track, but find myself
unable to turn it off and end up listening to the entire disc.
"Leap Year," the first song on the record, is an enticing introduction to
Taylor's voice. When she sings "I will wait for you," half of what
comes out of her mouth, especially with the word "wait," is just breath.
As she sighs these words, the pulsing keyboards and rhythm behind her
seem to be urging her to hurry up. Then an impatient violin chimes in.
With that, Taylor sighs, "Please come soon."
If you listen closely to "Song Beneath the Song" you can hear a hint of
frustration in Taylor's voice. You can picture her, with eyes half
closed, nearing an outburst but too bored or inert to commit to it.
Oberst, who also likely has his eyes half closed, backs her in this
cleverly disguised love song, helping her try to convince us "It's not a
love/ It's not a love/ It's not a love/ It's not a love song." A mix of
melodic loops and a jangly guitar swirl around Taylor's description of a
song that isn't about love: it's about cryptic words meandering, a
steady push-and-pull routine, muted chimes finding the beat, and high
notes falling into reach a bit like what a relationship between two
musicians might sound like.
"One for the Shareholder" is one of the few tracks Taylor didn't write.
It was written by Mike Mogis, a producer and longtime
collaborator of Taylor's. It's a fuzzy, glitchy dance track that
stands out from the rest of the disc with its big beat and machine
sounds. "Xanax" is also a feast of programmed instruments; it's a lush
wash of feedback and reverb à la the Cocteau Twins.
On the first few listens, 11:11 seemed to be shrouded in too much
melancholy. But as I become more familiar with the record, its buoyancy
seeps through, even on "Two of Those Too," where Taylor mourns a lost
relationship. An acoustic guitar and piano slowly lead Taylor's woeful
tale of the budding and then dying of her love. But she doesn't let
herself stay bogged down in misery. She tells about painting the walls
in their house but only until they couldn't reach any higher. When
describing the friends they hung out with, who were glad to be there,
the title comes into play: she and her lover were two of those too. And
she's thankful for that.