[16 October 2013]
PopMatters Music Editor
Much has been made of Glasser‘s sophomore full-length Interiors being something of a concept album about architecture, with one-woman-band Cameron Mesirow namechecking Rem Koolhaus’ manifesto Delirious New York as a jumping off point for her new album. For anyone who knows anything about Glasser, the artst-fartsy conceit of Interiors should come as no surprise, considering how Mesirow has been in the vanguard of high-concept pop experimenters the past few years, along with peers like Grimes, Julia Holter, and Julianna Barwick. Yet while many of Mesirow’s contemporaries have brought out some more listener-friendly elements from their aesthetically rigorous approaches, Glasser seems to have gone in the other direction, as Mesirow has only refined her act further on Interiors by going more abstract and theoretical with her mixed media homage.
In turn, what results with Interiors is an immaculately constructed composition you admire for the engineering, but have a more difficult time feeling comfortable and at home with. Musically speaking, Interiors would be more accurately titled Exteriors: Even though what’s on the surface is certainly stylish and well crafted, the album doesn’t convey the organic imagination that gave Glasser’s previous work depth and feeling. On the new effort, you could argue that Mesirow’s attempts to push ahead her state-of-the-art designs come at the expense creating a sound that’s inviting and absorbing, as she streamlines away much of what was substantial and vital about her music to come up with something that’s meticulously conceived, but also sterile and almost weightless. It’s not a little ironic, then, that an album inspired by architecture—particularly the monumental forms of Mesirow’s new home base of New York City—is generally lacking a sense of structure that gives you something to hold on to as you explore sonic environments that turn out to be somehow both squishy and cold, an analogue to cover artwork that depicts Mesirow drowning in what looks like a chrome-coated bouncy house.
So it’s appropriate when she sings on the opener “Shape”, “My home has no shape / Nothing to sustain me,” because much of Interiors floats amorphously, more like postmodern background music than an engrossing, submersive soundscape. On the whole, Interiors is oddly uniform in tone, tempo, and texture, as you tend to lose your bearings in the music, whether it’s within the flow of an individual piece or as you move from one interchangeable track to the next. Sequencing hardly seems crucial to Glasser’s blueprint—for instance, the neon-lit sway of “Landscape”, the Björk-lite moves of “Dissect”, and the oceanic electro of “New Year” could easily be swapped for one another without affecting the contours of the album, though they appear at the beginning, middle, and end of the album, respectively. What’s noticeably missing is some element of heft and impact, like the banged percussion and warm rhythms that gave Ring form and energy, which is conspicuously absent on “Dissect” and the wispy “Landscape”, as the oddly appended live drum outro on the latter almost concedes. So even when Mesirow’s mellifluous voice lifts a little more forcefully on “Forge” or when “New Year” tries to jazz things up with some horn lines, they still end up being variations on what’s an all-too-familiar theme on Interiors, as the melodic elements meander over some minimalist rhythm patterns.
As locked into her aesthetic as Glasser is on Interiors, you find yourself echoing Mesirow when she asks on “Forge”, “So where’s the way out?” In fact, that’s a rhetorical question that actually diagnoses why Interiors never fully sinks in, because Mesirow seems trapped by hewing too closely to her concept for the album. So even though Mesirow’s intent is to use the architectural thematic as a metaphorical window into the soul, it often feels like she’s too beholden to it to actually dig into her psyche and experiences in an immediate and relatable way, with many of her musings feeling forced, even contrived. That comes through in lyrics that are too often mediated by architectural tropes to feel personal, like when she tries to suggest physical and emotional connections with awkward lines such as, “I’m in your landscape and I don’t wanna go back to mine” or “I move on a map to a new coordinate.” In short, you get the sense that Mesirow is trying too hard here when the intuition and natural touch she’s shown before is what’s needed to make Interiors feel as approachable and immersive as her earlier work had.
Indeed, the way out for Mesirow on Interiors is to go with the flow of her instincts to break out of the album’s patterns, whether it’s on suggestive interludes like the futuristic R&B moves of “Window I” and the choir-like snippet on “Window III” or when the higher energy “Keam Theme” picks up the pace and turns up the volume with livelier beats and more contrast in its fuller production. Standing out for its more whimsical tone and driving tempo, “Exposure”, in particular, goes furthest in grabbing your attention because Mesirow indulges her pop-minded songwriting talents here, using synthesized strings, crisper beats, and beefed-up electro effects to mold the song into a piece with a distinct shape. And even though “Exposure” keeps up with the architectural theme, it doesn’t feel heavy handed here, because it feels like there’s a living, breathing person not just crafting the musical space, but inhabiting it too.
As these moments show, Glasser can find a way to get beneath the surface on Interiors, even if it more often gets too caught up in Mesirow’s own head as the ephemeral, ethereal sounds waft by without fully taking hold. Maybe they’re not quite enough, but instances like “Keam Theme” and “Exposure” reveal that there’s something there on Interiors inviting you to stay awhile and settle in, rather than just furnishing something pleasing enough to glance at, then pass by.