PopMatters is moving to WordPress in December. We will continue to publish on this site as we work on the move. We aim to make it a seamless experience for readers.


Alina Simone: Make Your Own Danger

Photo: Matthew Spencer

With this third record, Alina Simone seems to have hit her stride by setting off on a new musical path.

Alina Simone

Make Your Own Danger

US Release: 2011-05-31
Label: Virtual Label
Artist Website

In hindsight, Alina Simone's first full-length album, Placelessness, was perfectly titled. Its wandering, threadbare folk highlighted her rangy voice, but it wasn't until her second record, Everyone Is Crying Out to Me, Beware, that she actually found a place of her own to fully realize her strengths as a singer and performer. There's more than a little irony to that idea, since her second record was a Russian-sung covers record celebrating the songs of Yanka Dyagileva, but in some ways it may have set up what she's done on Make Your Own Danger.

If her second record was still hushed in its own right, it also stretched out and held more layers than its predecessors. Make Your Own Danger, though, is a full-fledged band record. The players here are many, and Simone employs them well, crafting dark landscapes on which her voice can roam. With the beautiful black and white artwork, and persistent shadowy tones -- Simone's voice is often placed starkly above the fray, making the other instruments distant and haunting -- there's a real noir feel to the record that works in its favor throughout.

Considering Simone has, to this point, been placed in a deathly folk ghetto with the likes of early Cat Power, her new record is at its best and most exciting when she breaks that mold. The title track shows her new directing perfectly, with a buzzing guitar slicing through the track. The drums charge, cymbals crash and ride, and that guitar dents the song over and over with its sharp angles, offering a tense contrast to Simone's expansive singing. "Beautiful Machine" uses more muted guitar tones, but they weave thick and moody layers that churn through the song. For her part, Simone breaks the dreamy sway of her voice to shout in the chorus, "I want to feel love, get caught in the echo chamber!" It'll catch you off-guard, but it's the kind of quick shift that shows her growth as a songwriter here. Elsewhere, "Day Glow Avenue", with its languid chords, could have been another spare crooner in Simone's catalog, but instead the steady drums build up and strings swirl around her and the song becomes huge as it moves along. It's a new tact for a singer who often used negative space for effect in past work, and she proves just as adroit at filling up space with instruments as she is with the echoing edges of her voice.

"You Fade Away" is the most up-tempo number on the record, and perhaps its biggest revelation. It starts on a Dexy's Midnight Runner-type horn riff, but under its brightness a cello runs off a persistent, sinister hum. Percussion clangs away and the guitar offers an up-stroked surf rock hook. None of the parts seem like they should fit, but they come together seamlessly, and Simone recognizes the power of that mix, and lowers her loud voice to a restrained whisper. It's a complete departure from anything she's ever done, and manages to feature her singing by not featuring it. Instead, her voice shines because the music behind it is so strong. The song is restless, tangles on itself, but never loses its momentum.

Those energetic moments are so striking that it's clear Simone has, for the most part, left the folk-singer thing behind. So when the record drifts back to that hushed approach, it doesn't feel like it fits her anymore. Despite groans of feedback playing against spare acoustic notes, "My Love is a Mountain" trudges along a bit too slowly to fit next to stuff like "You Fade Away". Closer "Apocalyptic Lullaby" suffers from a similar problem. Both are haunting, and the wandering flute on "Apocalyptic Lullaby" is a surprise, but while they aim to change the tempo they actually bring the record to a halt. The record deals enough in shadow and intrigue -- people are on the run, gunshots ring out in the night, voices are heard through walls -- that the mood doesn't need the kind of drastic shift these songs offer.

The exception to this dynamic on the record, though, is the beautiful "Just Here to Watch the Show". It's as spare as anything Simone has written, but her vocal performance is stunning. She hits highs you don't hear on the rest of the record, and the way her voice spins down from those into melancholy lows is downright impressive. Make Your Own Danger shows us that Alina Simone has far more to offer us than the shadowy folk-singer fare. She's a dynamic singer-songwriter, with some great players around her -- drummer John Lynch, with his spare rumble, deserves a lot of credit here -- and with this third record, she seems to have hit her stride by setting off on a new musical path.


Please Donate to Help Save PopMatters

PopMatters have been informed by our current technology provider that we have until December to move off their service. We are moving to WordPress and a new host, but we really need your help to fund the move and further development.





Artemis Is the Latest Jazz Supergroup

A Blue Note supergroup happens to be made up of women, exclusively. Artemis is an inconsistent outing, but it dazzles just often enough.


Horrors in the Closet: A Closet Full of Monsters

A closet full of monsters is a scary place where "straight people" can safely negotiate and articulate their fascination and/or dread of "difference" in sexuality.


'Wildflowers & All the Rest' Is Tom Petty's Masterpiece

Wildflowers is a masterpiece because Tom Petty was a good enough songwriter by that point to communicate exactly what was on his mind in the most devastating way possible.


Jazz Composer Maria Schneider Takes on the "Data Lords" in Song

Grammy-winning jazz composer Maria Schneider released Data Lords partly as a reaction to her outrage that streaming music services are harvesting the data of listeners even as they pay musicians so little that creativity is at risk. She speaks with us about the project.


The 100 Best Albums of the 2000s: 100-81

PopMatters' best albums of the 2000s begin with a series of records that span epic metal, ornate indie folk, and a terrifying work of electronic music.


The Power of Restraint in Sophie Yanow, Paco Roca, and Elisa Macellari's New Graphic Novels

The magical quality that makes or breaks a graphic novel lies somewhere in that liminal space in which art and literature intersect.


'People of the City' Is an Unrelenting Critique of Colonial Ideology and Praxis

Cyprian Ekwensi's People of the City is a vivid tale of class struggle and identity reclamation in the shadows of colonialism's reign.


1979's 'This Heat' Remains a Lodestone for Avant-Rock Adventure

On their self-titled debut, available for the first time on digital formats, This Heat delivered an all-time classic stitched together from several years of experiments.


'The Edge of Democracy' and Parallels of Political Crises

Academy Award-nominated documentary The Edge of Democracy, now streaming on Netflix, lays bare the political parallels of the rise of Bolsonaro's Brazil with Trump's America.


The Pogues' 'The BBC Sessions 1984-1986' Honors Working-Class Heroes

The Pogues' BBC Sessions 1984-1986 is a welcome chapter in the musical story of these working-class heroes, who reminded listeners of the beauty and dignity of the strong, sooty backs upon which our industrialized world was built.


Mary Halvorson Creates Cacophony to Aestheticize on 'Artlessly Falling'

Mary Halvorson's Artlessly Falling is a challenging album with tracks comprised of improvisational fragments more than based on compositional theory. Halvorson uses the various elements to aestheticize the confusing world around her.


15 Overlooked and Underrated Albums of the 1990s

With every "Best of the '90s" retrospective comes a predictable list of entries. Here are 15 albums that are often overlooked as worthy of placing in these lists, and are too often underrated as some of the best records from the decade.


'A Peculiar Indifference' Takes on Violence in Black America

Pulitzer Prize finalist Elliott Currie's scrupulous investigation of the impacts of violence on Black Americans, A Peculiar Indifference, shows the damaging effect of widespread suffering and identifies an achievable solution.


20 Songs From the 1990s That Time Forgot

Rather than listening to Spotify's latest playlist, give the tunes from this reminiscence of lost '90s singles a spin.


Delightful 'Miss Pettigrew Lives for a Day' Is Good Escapism

Now streaming on Amazon Prime, Bharat Nalluri's 2008 romantic comedy, Miss Pettigrew Lives for a Day, provides pleasant respite in these times of doom and gloom.


The 10 Best Horror Movie Remakes

The horror genre has produced some remake junk. In the case of these ten treats, the update delivers something definitive.


Flirting with Demons at Home, or, When TV Movies Were Evil

Just in time for Halloween, a new Blu-ray from Kino Lorber presents sparkling 2K digital restorations of TV movies that have been missing for decades: Fear No Evil (1969) and its sequel, Ritual of Evil (1970).


Magick Mountain Are Having a Party But Is the Audience Invited?

Garage rockers Magick Mountain debut with Weird Feelings, an album big on fuzz but light on hooks.

Collapse Expand Reviews

Collapse Expand Features

PM Picks
Collapse Expand Pm Picks

© 1999-2020 PopMatters.com. All rights reserved.
PopMatters is wholly independent, women-owned and operated.