Closed for the Season
★★★1/2 out of 5 stars
It's remarkably appropriate that the cover of Bend-based singer-songwriter Laurel Brauns' latest album is black and white (mostly black). The cover photo is a moody, monochromatic shot of a wet-haired, shirtless young boy standing outdoors. He looks cold, and he's holding an earthworm awkwardly in the palms of his hands. You can't tell if it's dead or alive - only that the boy seems to harbor a solemn fascination for it.
The songs on Closed for the Season echo the mystery and the melancholy of the photo...mostly the latter. In fact, Brauns' words and music push a would-be "folksy" sound deep into a strange, enthralling realm of Old-Worldly organic gothic.
The sun goes down early with the second song, "Róisín Dubh." Shuffling drums and echoing electric guitar mate with Brauns' ringing/trilling/moaning vocals to color the super-sad, super-creepy baby murderer's lament. "The lake was a mirror for the beauty she breathed / but her sunlight was stolen as she slid beneath," goes one line from the gut-wrenching lyric.
Things aren't always quite so morbid, thankfully. The strings and piano-bathed "Dear Cinderella" stops short of infanticide, content in its ultra-loneliness as a poignant, highly poetic anthem for the brokenhearted.
Brauns' rootsy gothic adventure continues in various shadowy shades throughout the album, hitting a brief crescendo with a 19th-century prostitute's dark musings on "Strawbery Banke" and "Mannequin"- a creepy tune about a woman dressing up a dummy in place of her lover.
Closed for the Season has its flaws - Brauns' lilting vocals are derivative of popular (if super-talented) songstresses like Alanis Morissette and others. And, it's just not that easy to swallow an hour of almost nothing but deep, dark, painful longing and unrequited love.
Still, Brauns' cloudy, yet bell-clear lyrical imagery, and subtly brilliant arrangements make for a well-built album overall. You can bet she's got the chops for earthy love-pop, nostalgic Great Basin ballads, Celtic busks, and even drinking songs for the ages (see "Shane McGowan") - plus anything else she puts her mind and pen to. In the meantime, turn down your mood lighting, don some black wool, and dig in.
Canaan Canaan seems happy at the shiny end of the songwriters' spectrum. She seems to dwell in a warm, fuzzy, bright-colored place surrounded by warm, fuzzy anime creatures. If she were walking in the woods, the flowers would probably turn to smile at her, and the tree branches would bow to comfort her.
Canaan did a fine job with the six songs on her self-produced EP, though we still think her sound could benefit from some occasional punk rock, techno and/or dance-punk flavor.
Call us meddlers.
As they stand, the simple, mostly acoustic, songs evoke innocence and wonderment, always with an eye on the natural world.
Canaan sounds even more natural when she's singing in Japanese - her first language - though there are no translated lyrics in the liner to guide us beyond the titles of songs like "Wolf Boy" and "Guiding Star." In any case, Moon Child reaches its pinnacle of dreaminess on "Good Night," a glowing English-language lullaby with spacey distortion buttered on for good measure.
LIVE AND DIRECT
Brauns and Canaan on local stages this week
John Shipe, Laurel Brauns
8pm Saturday, Jan 26. Silver Moon Brewing Co., 24 NW Greenwood Ave. 388-8331. $5.
1-3pm Saturday, Jan 26. Strictly Organic Coffee, 6 SW Bond St. 330-6061.