Corrina Repp has achieved near icon status on the Portland, Oregon music scene that has also given us the likes of the Decemberists and Blanket Music, which is no small feat considering how adored those two bands are. Repp is a rather reluctant yet singular singer/songwriter who, after her 2001 release I Take Your Days, didn’t even pick up a guitar for the next two years. Feeling she had nothing more to say that a hundred other women hadn’t already articulated, Repp simply chose to stop writing and performing music, preferring to work part-time at Hush Records and a chic Créperie in Portland. Then in early 2003, Repp picked up her guitar again to play a show at Berbati’s Pan, where Keith Schreiner of Dahlia and Auditory Sculpture was in the audience. Six months later, the shy producer and electro-musician worked up enough nerve to call Repp and ask her if she’d like to work on a song with him. That one song spawned nine others, and became It’s Only the Future, her long anticipated follow-up to I Take Your Days.
It was certainly worth the wait. It’s Only the Future, her fourth record for Chad Crouch’s Hush label, is a more fully realized project than Repp’s previous albums, thanks in no small part to her collaboration with Schreiner. His tasteful electronic arrangements and restrained production perfectly complement Repp’s in-your-ear vocals and simple acoustic guitar lines. This is not your run-of-the-mill folk with electronica flourishes. It’s Only the Future is a minimalist masterpiece of sublime proportions, and succeeds in making even the most processed of sounds pump with a human heart.
Repp has often been compared with Cat Power and Gillian Welch, although Azure Ray would be a more accurate association, even though Repp’s songs are more unassuming and her lyrics more emotionally stark and direct. Vocally, Repp reminds me of Jenny Toomey (Tsunami, Liquorice) in the way she so effectively tells a story, and her delivery also brings to mind Exile in Guyville-era Liz Phair somewhat. The songs themselves are deceptively simple with limited backing instrumentation, and there’s an openness to the arrangements that gives the tracks an almost ascetic quality. Repp and Schreiner have created a feeling of geographical wide-open spaces in the music that effectively counters the personally claustrophobic nature of the songs’ subject matter. Lyrically, It’s Only the Future can sometimes seem uncomfortably close to listen to.
Repp has made no secret of the fact that her separation from her husband of four years influenced the album’s stories of women torn between keeping up appearances and moving on with their lives.There’s a strong sense of leaving in her songwriting. Whether it be a relationship or a town, the need for escape seems poised on the horizon, though it’s not usually seized. It’s very much like real life. People screw up, get into situations that they’re not really sure how they ended up in, and have to make agonizing decisions that affect not only themselves, but everyone around them. Or sometimes they just do nothing. Either way, songs like “Have + To Hold”, “Finally”, and the title track deal with universal themes on a highly personal and relatable level.
It’s Only the Future is an album of reflections, some painful, others slowly accepted with the passage of time, and never forgotten. Repp doesn’t try to make any huge points with her songs. They’re beautifully understated and, in this age of ridiculous excess, hugely refreshing to listen to. Repp’s music is not out to reinvent the wheel, and there’s nothing here that’s groundbreaking nor hugely innovative, yet it remains one of the most satisfying listens I’ve had in quite a while. As you read this, Repp is in the process of supporting Colin Meloy of the Decemberists on a short acoustic tour of the West Coast throughout the month of January, so catch her if you can. It may be some time before this talented woman realizes she wants to say something again.