27 February 2010

Catching up with Corinne Bailey Rae and Post Harbor

Being buried under snow has its advantages, for one I got to do a lot of catching up over the past few days, including my music listening and writing. Corinne Bailey Rae is an artist I have known about for the past few years, but never really taken the time to really listen to her music. Post Harbor is a band I was recently introduced to and have been stuck on. Both are releasing their second albums, and both are great. So enough with introductions, I rather just dive headlong into these two albums.

Corinne Bailey Rae: “The Sea”

I heard the voice of an angel, and her name is Corinne Bailey Rae, a neo-soul singer from the United Kingdom. I recently heard “I’d Do It All Again,” and really regretted not making the investment in her debut album: “Corinne Bailey Rae” (24 February 2006). I was conscious of who she was, heard all the singles, saw the videos, and really liked her sound and her voice. But, as I was not blogging then and life was a bit crazy, I never got around to checking out the full album. But history did not repeat itself, Bailey Rae just released her sophomore effort, “The Sea” (20 January 2010 in the Japan, 26 January 2010 in the USA, and 1 February 2010 in the UK), and I am completely enraptured by her voice. Recording this album came to a complete halt after the tragic death of her husband (Justin Rae), and after a year of solitary existence, she revisited her music and this is the final product that captures that era of her life.

This album is all about the journey of genesis: from euphoria to devastation to regaining her strength, this is a personal album full of emotional insights and growth in her musical repertoire. The expected soul and R&B strands are present, but so are strands of jazz, blues, and current indie rock/pop. This is easily achieved because this time around Bailey Rae relied on a live band. And though sometimes the band verges on going through the motions (as they do not have the same emotional connection to the work as she does), just playing the notes, what carries each song is her voice. Whether wailing to a guitar or crooning to strings, her voice imbibes an emotional depth that is warm and inviting.

Bailey Rae’s indie influences are most apparent on the opening track, which I would imagine have thrown off a few people. Starting with the strumming of an electric guitar, she sings, “He’s a real live wire, he’s the best of his kind: wait till you see those eyes. He dresses like this different scene, he’ll kiss you make feel sixteen: what’s it even mean? Are you here? Are you here? Are you here, cause my heart recalls that…” And as her disconsolate vocals fill your ears and pulls on your heartstrings, you can only imagine the personal strength she must have to sing this song. And though the indie rock beat drops, and the song starts inching towards a faster tempo, her voice remains the same. And though the music shifts to neo-soul in the following track, “I’d Do It All Again” (the lead single), the same disconsolate feeling to her voice is ever present, but even more powerful.

The album, however, does not consistently stay in this mood; “The Blackest Lily” brings some funk to the table. And when she sings, “Colour my heart, colour my heart, make it restart, make it restart, colour my heart, I want it more than I ever knew,” it brings a sort of comfort, a mantra for future possibilities. Her voice is most powerful on “Love’s On Its Way.” When she sings against the strings, with such a simple arrangement, it is evident that Bailey Rae knows how to emote her soul. The album closes with the highly dramatic titular track, “The Sea,” her metaphor for life: “The sea, the majestic sea, breaks everything, crushes everything, cleans everything, takes everything from me.” And it is all summed up in these final words that Bailey Rae sings on the album. Life is majestic, it can crush you and it can cleanse you of all your pains and hurts, but one of the main measures we use to judge life is loss. And true loss, loss that cuts into the bones and soul, into your heart and existence, is something we can never forget.

If you have ever loss and felt lost, and if you ever thought that there was no hope left or light at the end of the tunnel, Corinne Bailey Rae’s “The Sea” is for you. This is not just an album about loss; this is about growth, regaining that inner strength, and living. This is a journey that shows the human strength and emotional depth. This is not just an album; this is something that needs to be experienced.

Track Listing:
1. Are You Here
2. I’d Do It All Again
3. Feels Like the First Time
4. The Blackest Lily
5. Closer
6. Love’s on Its Way
7. I Would Like to Call It Beauty
8. Paris Nights / New York Mornings
9. Paper Dolls
10. Diving for Hearts
11. The Sea
12. Little Wing – iTunes exclusive
13. It Be’s That Way Sometimes – iTunes pre-order bonus

Keep up with Corinne Bailey Rae at her homepage, MySpace, Facebook, and Twitter.

Here is her video for “I’d Do It All Again” from her YouTube Channel: CorinneBaileyRae.

Post Harbor: “They Can’t Hurt You If You Don’t Believe in Them”

I didn’t now anything at all about Post Harbor until the other day, when a friend of mine introduced me them, saying, “If you like Sigur Rós, you’re gonna love this band.” Of course I was game for a new artist in my collection, so I took a listen and was blown away and quickly educated myself. Post Harbor hails from the Pacific Northwest (specifically Seattle, WA USA). They self-released their debut album to little fanfare, but signed to Burning Building Recordings for their sophomore release. With a profound title, “They Can’t Hurt You If You Don’t Believe in Them” (16 February 2010), this sophomore album is easily a measuring rod for what post-rock is all about. Quite often subtly unexpected and other times abrasively grandiose, the album relies on unconventional arrangements and visceral bombast that hooks itself into you and does not let go. (Honestly, I fell in love with post-rock with “Happy Songs for Happy People” (17 June 2003) by Mogwai, and I have rediscovered that love again.)

Most of the songs on the album are of epic proportion, including the lead single, “Shirakashi.” The songs interplay between being soft, almost ethereal, and boomingly hard. And though vocals are occasionally interjected into the songs, unlike the majority of bands, it is not the words that are the focus. Much like dream pop, the vocal arrangements are just another layer of music, and the focus is always on the music, with its highly dramatic shifts and unaffected lows. This constant mountain-valley to the mood of the music is what creates this overwhelming sonic and emotional power that hooks you consistently.

There is a real level of sophistication on how noise is used on the album. From the falling rain in “The End of Something Great Is Coming” to the electronic ostinato of “With a Line Graph I Can Tell the Future,” noise always enhances the emotional urgency of the music. As for the range of sounds, from strings to synthetic electronics, guitars to subtle vocals, each song employs a range of sounds to color the atmosphere and mood of each song. And there is no “structured” was of doing this; the band approached each song as an individual, never having a cookie-cutter format to the songs. The only consistency in the songs is that they are approached minimalist fashion; not one single song is drowned in sound to the point of being overbearing.

Post-rock has yet to make real headway in popular culture, which may be to its advantage. Musicians like Post Harbor are able to continue to experiment with the concept of how “rock” should be put together and not weighed down with extraneous expectations. “They Can’t Hurt You If You Don’t Believe in Them” is a steady step in that direction. If Post Harbor did not generate much fanfare with their freshman release, this album is going to turn quite a few heads. And if you are not a fan of post-rock, or have no clue what it is, then you may want to really listen to this album; you may just fall in love.

Track Listing:
1. Ponaturi
2. Cities of the Interior
3. Shirakashi
4. With a Line Graph I Can Tell the Future
5. The End of Something Great Is Coming
6. Alia’s Fane
7. Augustine
8. Caves, Hallow Trees and Other Dwellings
9. Fore Example, This Is a Corpse
10. Intro

Keep up with Post Harbor at their homepage and MySpace.

Here is their video for “Shirakashi” from their YouTube Channel: postharbor.

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