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My Brightest Diamond

All Things Will Unwind

(Asthmatic Kitty; US: 18 Oct 2011; UK: 10 Oct 2011)

You have arrived somewhere else

Shara Worden was right to rechristen herself as My Brightest Diamond. She has a gorgeous voice that sparkles when she sings. This is especially true on her latest album, All Things Will Unwind. The operatically trained vocalist gracefully moves from note to note in an artful manner. It’s not until MBD sustains a note or reaches from a low to high note without seemingly straining that one notices how beautifully she has been singing all along. It’s a neat trick and one not many singers can pull off.


MBD is ably assisted by the yMusic Ensemble who provide instrumental and vocal backgrounds to her gem-like musical compositions that are rooted in avant garde traditions. MBD swirls. She whoops. She lilts. She soars. She emotes with affect one minute and plays it straight the next without losing the creative thread. The band yMusic frames MBD’s work in a way that provides a context to her sonic adventures. Together, they construct aural landscapes of the imagination that intellectually and aesthetically challenge and tease the listener.


Consider the industrial noises that begin “Reaching Through to the Other Side”, with the sound of a flute and a violin slithering through the incessant drumming. This allows MBD to generate something aesthetically beautiful without it ever turning saccharine. The band’s grit and MBD’s voice struggle against each other, which mimics the song’s theme of going beyond, so when the horn section announces its presence and closes the song, one believes the journey is over. You have arrived somewhere else.


The musical material here is consistently complex and playful. The songs swing from one idea to the next in unexpected ways. On “Be Brave”, MBD begins as if she is a scout alone in the forest that begins to notice her surroundings as the yMusic Ensemble embellishes the melody with strange forest creature type sounds. The drumming becomes louder, or is it MBD’s heart pounding? No matter, because MBD raises her voice to match. After all, this song is about being brave. The interplay between the singer and the musician shifts back and forth. They become one: the dancer and the dance.


MBD also writes creative and challenging lyrics. She pens seemingly simple satiric allegories like “There’s a Rat”, where bad people are cleverly compared to members of the animal kingdom to make larger points about the world. And she tells a fantastic tale about the human condition on “In the Beginning” where she bursts into “Hallelujahs” and proclaims the glorious day with “an unending hymn”. The cumulative effect of the different topics and musical styles overwhelms the listener with riches. It’s a deeply layered record with lots to listen to and appreciate in every sense. It’s also just a lot of fun as MBD clearly enjoys being in character and seeing where the songs take her.


Because MBD doesn’t seem to acknowledge limits, there’s a sweet cartoonishness to the whole thing. She makes you giggle out of earnestness more than silliness. What if “all things will unwind?”—MBD also tells us “love binds the world” as she croons on “We Added it Up,” a song about people with opposite traits who find each other. Anything is possible. This record is proof.

Rating:

Steven Horowitz has a Ph.D. in American Studies from the University of Iowa, where he continues to teach a three-credit online course on "Rock and Roll in America". He has written for many different popular and academic publications including American Music, Paste and the Icon. Horowitz is a firm believer in Paul Goodman's neofunctional perspective on culture and that Sam Cooke was right, a change is gonna come.


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