Theresa Andersson breaks down the sounds of a New Orleans parade and reconstructs them into wonderfully idiosyncratic, introspective pop. No beads or revelry required.
In the moment, parades are simple things. Largely unconcerned with subtlety, they make their case with brute force: You will celebrate, and you will like it! But in the aftermath, there's time to reflect. According to singer-songwriter/multi-instrumentalist Theresa Andersson, Street Parade was inspired by a particularly potent, possibility-laden stillness she felt after a 2010 Mardi Gras celebration. Fittingly, the album suggests a busy, free-associating mind littered with remnants of recent echoic memory, decontextualized and sculpted into unfamiliar shapes. Brass and woodwinds honk tentatively before erupting into full blasts, and snare rudiments skitter and roll off the heads and rims, but this isn't parade-ready music in any traditional sense (even if Andersson has performed some of it in that context, as in the video for the first single "Hold On To Me").
Since moving from Gotland, Sweden to New Orleans in 1990, Andersson has tried her hand at vocal jazz and Americana-inflected pop, but 2008 represented both a creative and commercial breakthrough of sorts. She retooled her sound to fit a newly adopted live model of loop-based solo performance, and several YouTube demonstrations of this technique went viral. Following up on this success, she released Hummingbird, Go!, a lively, largely upbeat collection with nods to everything from Bacharach to Motown. Street Parade shares much in common with Hummingbird, Go!, including producer Tobias Fröberg at the helm, poet Jessica Faust pitching in on lyrics, and arrangements that favor Andersson's stage technique. These commonalities only make the two releases' substantial differences more striking by contrast. If Andersson and Fröberg designed Hummingbird, Go! with the intention of fashioning warm, familiar pop using the tools that Andersson deploys live, then Street Parade is their attempt at letting this new template, as well as the components borrowed from the ambient sounds of Mardi Gras, dictate the musical possibilities. It's darker, more emotionally complicated, and far less padded for comfort.
In fact, Andersson's most potent trick here may be in what she omits. Despite an orchestra's worth of instruments that appear over the course of the album, Andersson and Fröberg use them sparingly, scaling back to skeletal percussion and voice for long stretches of "Injuns" and "What Comes Next". The backing for Andersson's multitracked voice on "Plucks" is simply staccato trumpet and, as advertised, plucked violin. On the ethereal verses of the title track, she sings over mournful brass with softly beaten toms, unaccompanied by any traditional low end. It takes only a modest bass part and some press rolls on the snare to push the chorus towards Andersson's full-throated dramatics: "Glitter raining down / Flowers fill the ground / Tomorrow it all burns to ash".
This restrained, but open-ended, approach leaves a lot of room for Andersson's swerving vocal style. Her timbre, at times, makes her a ringer for Maria McKee on her showier, arty post-Lone Justice work, but Andersson has a jazzier, restlessly rhythmic sensibility. On "Listen to My Heels", she rails against gossipmongers with bursts of syncopated revulsion and, on "What Comes Next", her off-beat, stop-start rhythm conveys breathless anticipation. Despite a title that might be a reference to Merrill Garbus (a fellow fan of percussion-heavy, loop-centric arrangements), "Fiya's Gone" is a saxy, swingin', bluesy lament with Rihanna swagger and Dirty Projectors harmonies.
Despite the novel concept behind Street Parade, Andersson and Faust do their best when playing it relatively safe, lyrically. Departures from the tried and true yield a few nice rewards like "Carve a hole where a heart beat / Fill it with all kinds of wonder / Long-stiched dreams, frayed out seams / Patches make an heirloom" ("What Comes Next"), but some notable missteps on "Hold On To Me", a seduction attempt as musically interesting as it is lyrically clunky. For all the lovely woodwinds, off-kilter percussion, and massed vocals, no song needs a rhyme badly enough to justify "I see the other girls you contemplate / They don't look a thing like me / Mistrust won't abate / I deserve the greater fate". Then there's "Sleepsong for Saoirse", a lullabye that's too packed with creepy imagery to function as anything but a knowingly dark anti-lullabye, but also too rushed and pounding to quite make the joke work.
Nonetheless, it would be putting too much on some ill-constructed lyrics to consider Street Parade anything less than one of early 2012's more musically inventive pop albums. By converting the component parts of a New Orleans street festival into the DNA for a more personal aesthetic, Andersson has created the ideal parade music for introverts.