Music

Tender Forever: No Snare

Maybe Valera's just settling into some subtle changes, or slowly headed to some grander departure. If so, the seeds for something great are here. But on its own, No Snare doesn't quite hold up.


Tender Forever

No Snare

US Release: 2010-06-08
Label: K
UK Release: Import
Artist Website
Label Website
Amazon
iTunes

If there's a been a consistent success for Melanie Valera in her work under the Tender Forever moniker, it's her ability to take the cool metal of drum machines and electronic blips and make them simmer with warmth or, at her very best, course with hot blood. So at first listen, the decidedly darker atmosphere of her new album, No Snare, might seem an all-out departure from the wild-eyed electro-pop she's given us to date.

Really, though, it's merely a retooling of the skills we already know her for. These songs deal in the same elements: rumbling percussion, tangled swirls of keys and atmospherics, and Valera's torn-wide-open voice right up front. On No Snare there's just a new space around it all. These sounds don't tense up into muscular dance beats, but rather, when they succeed, stretch out into haunting soundscapes.

"Like the Snare That's Gone" is perhaps the best example of this tweaked sound. It's danceable, in its way, but much more unassuming than "Doves Vs. Pigeons" from the last record. It's a song much more interested in the sinister clang and clatter of the percussions, while Valera puts together an affecting, metaphor of heartbreak, when she sings, "My heart sounds / sounds baby like the snare that's gone / and the deep sound goes." It's a deeply personal moment on the record, but still surges with Valera's usual energy. While here and all over the record she sings of what's gone, of some lack, you can feel her leaving it behind rather than dwelling on it.

The best parts of the record, no matter how dark that new space in her sound, are resilient in a similar way. The raspy, staccato keys on "Only the Sounds You Made" or the growing thunder of the drums on "Nothing at All" brace Valera's vocals, keeping all the heartache she spills from sounding too self-pitying. Instead, the highlights here show a singer staring head on at what she's lost and waving goodbye to it all.

The trouble Valera runs into on No Snare, though, comes when the tracks don't anchor themselves. On her older, brighter material, she could get away with a track that drifted off on her. Here, songs like "But the Shape Is Wide" and the brief "Day Number" lack the distinct touches and haunting atmosphere of better tracks on the album. Instead, we get something far too close to electro-pop by the numbers. The beats are straight-ahead, and the sounds on top of them are too simple, too unassuming to make any mark. While Valera's voice never loses its emotional heft, it comes off thinner when the music behind it lacks the same strength.

The uneven nature of the album wouldn't be so bad if Valera had left herself a bit more room to stretch out and recover. But with only nine songs and almost 27 minutes, No Snare runs out of ground too quickly for its own good. While there are a few dynamic, beautiful tracks here, they end up getting outnumbered by songs that feel a little too generic. Perhaps Valera is just settling into this new shift, or testing the waters on the way to some grander departure. If so, the seeds for something great are here. On its own, No Snare doesn't quite hold up.

5
Music

The Best Metal of 2017

Painting by Mariusz Lewandowski. Cover of Bell Witch's Mirror Reaper.

There's common ground between all 20 metal albums despite musical differences: the ability to provide a cathartic release for the creator and the consumer alike, right when we need it most.

With global anxiety at unprecedented high levels it is important to try and maintain some personal equilibrium. Thankfully, metal, like a spiritual belief, can prove grounding. To outsiders, metal has always been known for its escapism and fantastical elements; but as most fans will tell you, metal is equally attuned to the concerns of the world and the internal struggles we face and has never shied away from holding a mirror up to man's inhumanity.

Keep reading... Show less

In Americana music the present is female. Two-thirds of our year-end list is comprised of albums by women. Here, then, are the women (and a few men) who represented the best in Americana in 2017.

If a single moment best illustrates the current divide between Americana music and mainstream country music, it was Sturgill Simpson busking in the street outside the CMA Awards in Nashville. While Simpson played his guitar and sang in a sort of renegade-outsider protest, Garth Brooks was onstage lip-syncindg his way to Entertainer of the Year. Americana music is, of course, a sprawling range of roots genres that incorporates traditional aspects of country, blues, soul, bluegrass, etc., but often represents an amalgamation or reconstitution of those styles. But one common aspect of the music that Simpson appeared to be championing during his bit of street theater is the independence, artistic purity, and authenticity at the heart of Americana music. Clearly, that spirit is alive and well in the hundreds of releases each year that could be filed under Americana's vast umbrella.

Keep reading... Show less

Two recently translated works -- Lydie Salvayre's Cry, Mother Spain and Joan Sales' Uncertain Glory -- bring to life the profound complexity of an early struggle against fascism, the Spanish Civil War.

There are several ways to write about the Spanish Civil War, that sorry three-year prelude to World War II which saw a struggling leftist democracy challenged and ultimately defeated by a fascist military coup.

Keep reading... Show less
8
Film

'Foxtrot' Is a 'Catch-22' for Our Time

Giora Bejach in Fox Trot (2017 / IMDB)

Samuel Maoz's philosophical black comedy is a triptych of surrealism laced with insights about warfare and grief that are both timeless and timely.

There's no rule that filmmakers need to have served in the military to make movies about war. Some of the greatest war movies were by directors who never spent a minute in basic (Coppola, Malick). Still, a little knowledge of the terrain helps. A filmmaker who has spent time hugging a rifle on watch understands things the civilian never can, no matter how much research they might do. With a director like Samuel Maoz, who was a tank gunner in the Israeli army and has only made two movies in eight years, his experience is critical.

Keep reading... Show less
9

South Pole Station is an unflinching yet loving look at family in all its forms.

The typical approach of the modern debut novel is to grab its audience's attention, to make a splash of the sort that gets its author noticed. This is how you get a book deal, this is how you quickly draw an audience -- books like Fight Club, The Kite Runner, even Harry Potter each went out of their way to draw in an audience, either through a defined sense of language, a heightened sense of realism, or an instant wash of wonder. South Pole Station is Ashley Shelby's debut, and its biggest success is its ability to take the opposite approach: rather than claw and scream for its reader's attention, it's content to seep into its reader's consciousness, slowly drawing that reader into a world that's simultaneously unfamiliar and totally believable.

Keep reading... Show less
7
Pop Ten
Mixed Media
PM Picks

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

rating-image