[29 January 2013]
When putting on the Lady Lazarus record All My Love in Half Light, there are a few steps one should follow to ensure it delivers the fullest effect. Find a comfortable listening place. Turn off all the lights. Empty your mind of thoughts. In essence, turn yourself into an empty vessel for about 41 minutes and remove any unnecessary external stimuli. If you can accomplish this, the album’s nine songs will respond by echoing throughout the temporary shell you’ve crafted.
The record, the second by Melissa Ann Sweat under her Sylvia Plath-derived pseudonym, is stark in its quiet loudness, meaning it has a sparse sound that seems grand due to its up close and personal production. So cold and lonely is the album that it fills the void it was seemingly recorded in. Sweat’s singing, raw and vulnerable, comes as a dispatch from another dimension or from behind the boulder barring entry from a tomb. The term “chamber folk” has scarcely been more accurate.
The minimalistic song structures here and classic instrumentation, together with Sweat’s voice, are what make such imagery palpable. An elegiac quality pervades the work, steeped in the melancholy of a ghost adrift on the marshes of Wuthering Heights, unable to find a home to haunt. More plodding and hypnotic than melodic, the music has a fluid, weightless quality to it. Opening song “Lapsarian” features a heaving accordion drone that sways like a raft bobbing at sea. Elsewhere, Sweat’s pounding her fingers on the keys as though they were lead weights reminds the listener that the piano is partly a percussion instrument. On songs such as “Wonder, Inc.” and “Edge”, the transition from note to note is jarring in its abruptness, rather than smooth, which serves to simulate the internal turmoil Sweat’s narrator(s) are enduring.
In terms of subject matter, Sweat’s lyrics are often indecipherable, yet her voice operates on a more emotional frequency, conveying the appropriate sentiments even if the words’ literal meanings are obscured. The lyrics that are clear are themselves non-linear, instead offering impressionistic portraits of one’s psyche, frequently being repetitive as though the speaker is working her way through some personal trauma on the way to self-discovery. In “Goudunov”, Sweat intones that she is “Good enough / For the world,” a declaration that is tempered by the counter of “Never said I never was,” all while the tempo swirling around her subtly escalates like a fluttering heartbeat. Her trajectory of self-evolution continues throughout the album, with “Edge” composed solely of the repeated phrase “On my way / Out of here” and minor piano chords. Truly, Sweat is as economical with her words as she is with her instrumentation. She occasionally gets direct, however, with an almost childlike honesty, as with the opening lines of “Do Not Go Gentle”: “When I gave you /My heart / You tore it / Apart.”
Unfortunately, the ethereal aura dominating the record is not always a good thing; it drifts so much that it seems indicative of lacking focus. The songs tend to bleed together, sounding too similar. Also, like a cold wind passing through you, you’re fully invested during the experience, but once it’s gone, you’re left with no lasting resonance. In a sense, the deeply personal and abstruse nature of the songs make the listener feel like a voyeur of sorts, prying into a journal not ready for an outsider’s consumption. Thus, the album has the feel of a demo about it, in that it is certainly interesting, compelling even, but leaves the listener without the sense of having heard a fully realized and executed concept.