Music

Samantha Crain: You (Understood)

Filtering optimism through resilience makes You (Understood) as mature as it is compelling.


Samantha Crain

You (Understood)

US Release: 2010-06-08
UK Release: 2010-06-08
Label: Ramseur
Amazon
iTunes

In “Blueprints”, Samantha Crain sings, “No matter how much empathy I give / I will never understand your words”. The lines exemplify where Crain is right now. Even at 23 years old and with just one EP and one prior full-length behind her, Crain sounds wise and experienced. She resists the weariness that her lyric might imply, digging instead into the needs of empathy and understanding. Her new record is, after all, titled You (Understood), and it’s a perpetual search for comprehension of another, aware of the impossibility of the quest, but continually optimistic.

If Crain stopped in “Blueprints” with that lack of understanding, it’d be a depressing note about the persistence of alienation, but that’s not the sort of thought that drives this album. She continues by singing, “But you have my heart and all it learns about you”. If we always have gaps around us, we can be closing them, and we can share ourselves across that space.

And that’s all lovey enough, but, again, if Crain left it at that sort of sentiment, the disc would quickly take on a mindless sheen. Crain, who sounds a bit like Feist and a bit like Joanna Newsom and who has a strong folk-rock band at her back, knows it’s not that easy. “Blueprints” acknowledges a certain loss of self, and a naïve hope for change. Connection is worth striving for in Crain’s world, but it doesn’t come easy.

One of the album’s highlights, “Wichitalright”, acknowledges in a slow lament, “It’s a wicked world for you to grow up in / And it’s a thickened skin, the skin you walk around in”. The tracks softly resists growing cold and battles the “fatalistic dreams” that start to creep in. At the same time, Crain reveals guilt. Her singer has brought some of this attitude to the addressed person, by going “too far”. Right and wrong become troubled concepts here. Even as the song protects its optimism, it reveals the strictures that limit hopefulness.

Bagpipes make everything better. Or at least that’s the escape on “Two-Sidedness”, where the singer can’t quit come to grips with the unnamed trauma arising within her current relationship. In the setting, the bagpipes are both appropriate and demanding. The band stretches here, but it hasn’t been at ease throughout the album. Crain has consistently been rocking up a basic folk grounding (maybe gone from that center by this point even), and the band is at times melodic, moody, and even jangly (most notably on the opening track, “Lions”). The flexibility of the band within a general sounds keeps the album from ever finding a rut, and the bagpipes create the peak musical break, maximizing the experience of one of the disc’s more emotionally demanding cuts.

Whether cut, broken, or hurt, Crain remains constant in her hopefulness. You get the sense that she hasn’t seen what she’s looking for, but that’s the very essence of hope. The realistic side of her thought makes the resulting drive one of fortitude as much as of expectation. Filtering optimism through resilience makes You (Understood) as mature as it is compelling.

7

To be a migrant worker in America is to relearn the basic skills of living. Imagine doing that in your 60s and 70s, when you thought you'd be retired.


Nomadland: Surviving America in the Twenty-First Century

Publisher: W. W. Norton
Author: Jessica Bruder
Publication date: 2017-09
Amazon

There's been much hand-wringing over the state of the American economy in recent years. After the 2008 financial crisis upended middle-class families, we now live with regular media reports of recovery and growth -- as well as rising inequality and decreased social mobility. We ponder what kind of future we're creating for our children, while generally failing to consider who has already fallen between the gaps.

Keep reading... Show less
7

Very few of their peers surpass Eurythmics in terms of artistic vision, musicianship, songwriting, and creative audacity. This is the history of the seminal new wave group

The Rock and Roll Hall of Fame nominating committee's yearly announcement of the latest batch of potential inductees always generates the same reaction: a combination of sputtering outrage by fans of those deserving artists who've been shunned, and jubilation by fans of those who made the cut. The annual debate over the list of nominees is as inevitable as the announcement itself.

Keep reading... Show less

Barry Lyndon suggests that all violence—wars, duels, boxing, and the like—is nothing more than subterfuge for masculine insecurities and romantic adolescent notions, which in many ways come down to one and the same thing.

2001: A Space Odyssey (1968) crystalizes a rather nocturnal view of heterosexual, white masculinity that pervades much of Stanley Kubrick's films: after slithering from the primordial slime, we jockey for position in ceaseless turf wars over land, money, and women. Those wielding the largest bone/weapon claim the spoils. Despite our self-delusions about transcending our simian stirrings through our advanced technology and knowledge, we remain mired in our ancestral origins of brute force and domination—brilliantly condensed by Kubrick in one of the most famous cuts in cinematic history: a twirling bone ascends into the air only to cut to a graphic match of a space station. Ancient and modern technology collapse into a common denominator of possession, violence, and war.

Keep reading... Show less
10

This book offers a poignant and jarring reminder not just of the resilience of the human spirit, but also of its ability to seek solace in the materiality of one's present.

Marcelino Truong launched his autobiographical account of growing up in Saigon during the Vietnam War with the acclaimed graphic novel Such a Lovely Little War: Saigon 1961-63, originally published in French in 2012 and in English translation in 2016. That book concluded with his family's permanent relocation to London, England, as the chaos and bloodshed back home intensified.

Now Truong continues the tale with Saigon Calling: London 1963-75 (originally published in French in 2015), which follows the experiences of his family after they seek refuge in Europe. It offers a poignant illustration of what life was like for a family of refugees from the war, and from the perspective of young children (granted, Truong's family were a privileged and upper class set of refugees, well-connected with South Vietnamese and European elites). While relatives and friends struggle to survive amid the bombs and street warfare of Vietnam, the displaced narrator and his siblings find their attention consumed by the latest fashion and music trends in London. The book offers a poignant and jarring reminder not just of the resilience of the human spirit, but also of its ability to seek solace in the materiality of one's present.

Keep reading... Show less
8

Canadian soul singer Elise LeGrow shines on her impressive interpretation of Fontella Bass' classic track "Rescue Me".

Canadian soul singer Elise LeGrow pays tribute to the classic Chicago label Chess Records on her new album Playing Chess, which was produced by Steve Greenberg, Mike Mangini, and the legendary Betty Wright. Unlike many covers records, LeGrow and her team of musicians aimed to make new artistic statements with these songs as they stripped down the arrangements to feature leaner and modern interpretations. The clean and unfussy sound allows LeGrow's superb voice to have more room to roam. Meanwhile, these classic tunes take on new life when shown through LeGrow's lens.

Keep reading... Show less
Pop Ten
Mixed Media
PM Picks

© 1999-2017 Popmatters.com. All rights reserved.
Popmatters is wholly independently owned and operated.

rating-image