Sam Reviews the Criminally Underknown, Part I
Ed: In this series of reviews, Sam will cover bands he thinks are deserving of wider praise and recognition, but who currently wallow in the dregs of neutral to no publicity. He is adamant about his selections. You probably should heed his words. I can't guarantee your continued peace of mind if you don't.
If Emmylou Harris had written OK Computer, it might sound like this. (There… I
just did something I promised I would never do by referencing other bands in
a review I'm writing about a completely different band. But now that I've gone
and done that, I might as well take the analogy to its final conclusion.)
Like Radiohead's magnum opus, Amy Annelle's latest album is awash with swirling
eddies of atmospheric paranoia, self-derision, doubt and longing. Those feelings
are wrapped in a warble that, like Harris', sounds neither here nor there as
if the singing is an exorcism of demons we'll never know or comprehend. But with Songs
for Creeps, we at least catch glimpses of them.
You see, the human mind is a strange thing. When left to its own, its strangeness
is amplified. Connections, fears and dependencies are called forth from dormancy. Songs
for Creeps is an exercise in this. It is an album for the solitary, rife
with society's hidden undercurrents and bristling with melodies for the discarded,
abused, and abusers. Lines like "…speed! Enough blessed speed to keep us up for
weeks!" and "There was cocaine and drinks aplenty…" are scattered throughout
the proceedings like vignettes in a heroin dream a modern-day Symphonie
Fantastique, if you will.
Songs for Creeps makes prevalent use of minor modes, heightening the sense of delirium. Addiction is a central theme: addiction to drugs, troubled love, and despondency. In a self-aware moment, Annelle sings "the lines composed in sleep are the best that come to be. But fade, like a wave, they do, in the morning." In this way she expresses the artists' frustration of never being able to capture exactly what they intend. The hand inevitably muddles what the creative mind dictates.
Again and again, she references this notion. "I'm in the spotlight, can't do nothing right, I wear all my fears here on the outside." By the end, faced with persistent doubts and weakened will, her persona turns back to the usual crutches "I'm a-gone get high."
In "Gold to Green" the mood shifts to a surprisingly uplifting melancholy (no doubt due to that most melancholic of chord voicings, the major 7). It's a winsome rumination on autumn, imploring lost (or former) lovers to linger. But inevitably, the exuberance of spring and summer give way to the death and decay of fall and winter. In fact, death seems to be another preoccupation with these songs. "Slit me up from gut to throat, and call it a victory," she sings in "Mercy Me." Or in "The Lion's Share," she takes the idea of emotional evisceration to its logical conclusion. "Tore you open with one claw/ Your blood came out in waves 'til it was drained/ Came and came 'til you were drained."
But even junkies can enter rehab, and like that promise of a better future, it all turns around by album's end. A mysterious love appears to root out all that was poisoning her heart. In this way, she has hope for the future. "He knows of my nameless ache, and how it grew to rule me, and how it all fell on deaf and dumb ears... he said 'darling, you are here for a reason. Your only hope now is love. And if you let it, it will fill the cracks and spring the traps that you set in circles 'round your worn-out broken heart... you will be set free when you know: you've been had by savage masters, jealousy and anger.'"
And so, despite a dark journey, there are brighter days peeking over the horizon a lesson we could all stand to learn from time to time, I think.