Lament of pumpkins gone to waste

Posted: Thursday, November 04, 2010

These few days after Halloween make me sad. All over town beautiful, juicy pumpkin meat left to rot in the rain. I think of all the soups, pies and other baked goods that could have been made with the food that is now nothing more than compost. All those seeds that could have so easily become toasted snacks for us are instead going back to the earth.

There is a bright spot in these post-jack-o'-lantern times - pumpkin prices drop dramatically as the demand for carving squash suddenly dies. They came a long way to get here; don't let all this imported biomass go to waste.

October gave way not only to a bountiful harvest, but also to a crop of new releases in the music world. As with any culinary recipe, some ingredients were mixed more successfully than others, but none are failures. Some selections fill the ears of their listeners with perhaps more auditory calories than are needed, but there are morsels of goodness within each one.

"The Fool" by Warpaint

My taste is very picky when it comes to vocalists. It's hard to put a finger on exactly what the qualities I look for in a singer; it's more of a case-by-case basis. To be honest, in this case I'm not completely thrilled.

Warpaint is a female quartet out of Los Angeles whose sound has been described as hypnotic post-punk. As far as instruments are concerned, these girls are doing alright. They use their guitars and drums to create a thick, layered sound. However, if this were a war between voices and instruments, the vocals may as well surrender - in most cases they aren't strong enough to compete with the music in what is supposed to be the background. Oft-flat vocal lines are consistently buried so far under the layers of instruments that there's no hope of understanding the lyrics. This leads me to believe that these ladies don't put much emphasis on their words - not that there's anything wrong with that.

That said, a certain track did catch my attention enough to be noted. In track six, "Baby," Warpaint stripped away enough of their usual layers for a beautiful song to emerge - the best track on the whole album. The vocals are solid and easily distinguishable above a simple acoustic guitar part. The background vocals are sprinkled on top in moderation, creating interesting intervals that probably wouldn't be most musicians' first choice, but they work very well in this piece. This song is so good, it makes me wonder if I missed something in the previous five tracks, so I go back and listen again. The verdict: it's a little better after another time through, but "Baby" still has something to it that the rest of the album just doesn't.

"Weather" by Annie Gallup

Annie Gallup is a poet. I was struck with this as soon as her disc began to spin in my player. Her chosen verbiage is satisfying and pleasant. She tells stories of important events in her own, unique way - just the way I like to hear them.

Gallup's backup band is fabulous, consisting of a traditional string quartet. This is rare for most singer-songwriters, but I applaud Gallup for taking the risk in ditching her guitar. It works. The entire album is backed with the strings bowing and plucking away to create a unique soundscape to highlight Gallup's vocals.

So Gallup's lyrics are great and the background music is great, but the two of them don't quite mix. I'm torn between the two sides - letting loose in the midst of beautiful string arrangements vs. listening to Gallup's truly interesting lyrics, which require intense focus. Her vocal parts are just too wordy and delivered too quickly to properly balance with the peaceful movement of the string parts.

I'd rather like to hear her lyrics read as spoken word, and I get my wish in tracks four and six, "Sixty Eight" and "Late," respectively. In the first, Gallup speaks boldly above a strong cello's pluck, leaving ample reflection space between stanzas. In the second, Gallup's fast-paced delivery of words, which hurts her in other numbers, finally works to her advantage.

It's clear that Gallup has stuff to say, and it's clear that she has good taste in backup bands. This is, unfortunately, another example of very cool ingredients just not mixed as successfully as they could have been.

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