Thursday, October 17, 2013

Up From the Underground: Norine Braun "Conventus the Eye of the Heart"

While we have covered the revival of goth , with hipster kids shaving their heads into death hawks  and trying to emulate Joy Division, there are artists who can capture the feel without all the window dressing. I would have never guessed this singer songwriter out of Vancouver ,Canada would open up her new album "Coventus the Eye of the Heart" with a song that sounds like a female version of Nick Cave , with vocal inflections that leap into her upper register like Siouxsie Sioux, all without the aid of Halloweenish theatrics.

The entire album is not her camped out in the batcave. "How Would We Know" takes a leisurely stroll into more Joni Mitchell territory. But her smoky alto will appeal to fans of Concrete Blonde on the song "Dizzy" which drifts into Blondie 70's pop at the chorus. The instrumentation is  organic without dipping Birkenstocks clad feet into granola, like other singer songwriters do when relying too heavily on acoustic guitars.

There's a blue vibe through out the album, but rather than the frat boy Mumford and Sons type of thing, its somewhere in-between Ani Difranco's more beat moments and a less alt-rock crunch of Concrete Blonde. The lead playing on "No More Reprise" is pretty impressive, it has a 60's funk feel. So many bases are being covered here, but in a way not unlike how a Joni Mitchell or Kate Bush uses many sonic colors on the canvas of their songs.

The Johnette Napolitano feel returns on the more straight forward alternative rock number "Boy". I like the movement in the bass line on this one . The playing here  convinces you that Norine could craft an entire album of this sort of thing if she wanted to. "Today" shifts into a slightly darker groove that at times recalls  Alanis Morrisette 's hey day. The inflections in her phrasing really accent this fact. The Occupy Movement takes the spot light as the lyrical inspiration to "99%" which returns her back into the dark alleys of Nick Cave's back yard.

A darker acoustic vibe unfolds on "Take the Sleek Train". It is no wonder she  fared so well on the festival circuit,  even the languid dreamy nature of this song would translate well live. The sultry Siouxsie tingle creeps back over your ears on "Fire Flames".  It almost carries a tango beat as guitar crawls out from the corners of the song.

There's a retro feel to "The Perfect Love Affair" that doesn't play to all of her strengths, despite the Doors like keyboards that bubble up from under. The album however as a whole has little filler, despite some of the abrupt stylistic shifts, like the dip into country on " I Found You". It's very competent song writing and production, and when I say country it has more in common with  the Cowboy Junkies than Barbara Mandrell.

The title track that closes out the album starts as an ethereal lullaby and bursts into an upbeat dream pop , that would have a wink towards house music if it wasn't for the organic nature of the instrumentation. It falls some between Imogen Heap and the Cocteau Twins, to my ears.  

Braun has carved an interesting niche for her self, as being billed as a folk-blues artist, only encompasses elements of what she does, which strikes me a being darker than either. If you are like me and your musical tastes lean towards the dark side, your ears might be trained to seek that out. This album is highly recommended for those us who are fans of 80's New Wave but opened minded enough to embrace it through the filter of a more modern and organic approach. This is not a swampy as the Bad Seeds , and might owe more to Marianne Faithful but a worthwhile listen all the same.

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