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44.1 kHz Archive

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Maria Taylor
Saddle Creek

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.

by Lori Miller Barrett

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