Music

Nataly Dawn: How I Knew Her

They say the road to hell is paved with good intentions. Dawn seems well-intentioned.


Nataly Dawn

How I Knew Her

Label: Nonesuch
US Release Date: 2013-02-11
Amazon
iTunes

Every once in a while, an artist emerges who is so twee and charming, that the music just makes a seasoned listener want to puke. The tropes of innocence and experience, of recalling other albums and creating new distinctive sounds comes off as a paint-by-numbers exercise more than a real human expression. Such is the case of Nataly Dawn.

Sure, she’s going to sell a lot of records. She raised more than $100,000 on her Kickstarter campaign to make How I Knew Her. She has a strong fan base thanks to her past work doing fey covers with Pomplamoose. She’s hip to a fault, and it is a fault.

On How I Knew Her, Dawn touches all the bases of heaviness. There are songs about failed love, death, religion, being a woman, and such all wrapped in a pretty box of art. There are classical references, quirky rhythms, and oddball singing as if something serious is happening. But the mix comes off as self-indulgence and childish. It’s the aural equivalent of having a grown up use finger paints to create a picture of a rainbow. Presumably, the work will look more like a real rainbow than a child’s version, but in the end, it won’t be as good and the image will be missing something.

Perhaps this harsh criticism is unwarranted. After all, don’t we all want to recapture our youth and be a serious adult at the same time? The problem is that Dawn’s pastiche of Regina Spektor / Ingrid Michaelson / Fiona Apple / Kimya Dawson reduces the work of more talented artists to a parody. It’s a truism that the more distinctive an artist, the easier it is to lampoon. Just ask Weird Al. Dawn does a Weird Al version of these more adventurous folk rock pop singer-songwriters, but she is not trying to be funny.

So, when she sings “long running prayers / to keep her from going insane” as she compares self-loathing to “flesh eating monsters” on "Long Running Joke", there is nothing at which we could laugh. Dawn’s self-deprecation comes off as cute more than real. The big, echoey instrumentation adds a circus aura so that when she sings the last line of “we’re all the same”, we know it has all been just a show. Let’s all act that we hate ourselves to show how much we really love ourselves and hence those in real pain must just be acting so we don’t have to care about them, she argues. Ugh!

The carnivalesque instrumentation is even more confusing on “Still a Believer”, where Dawn provides a lively version of her religion (re: “that life is a test / and only the best will be spared”) versus the more traditional views of her grandmother. So by implication, if only the best are spared, most people are going to hell or some sort of purgatory. And Dawn sings this to a happy beat without a sense of irony? Strange and judgemental, but not in a good way.

I don’t believe most people are going to hell, but they say the road to hell is paved with good intentions. Dawn seems well-intentioned. She’s trying to create serious music that’s fun to hear and addresses serious topics. Her fans helped her raise the money to employ a talented band of side musicians to flesh out her self-penned tunes. But repeated listening to this album is a worldly torment in itself. One doesn’t have to wait for the afterlife, or death, for such an experience.

3

In the wake of Malcolm Young's passing, Jesse Fink, author of The Youngs: The Brothers Who Built AC/DC, offers up his top 10 AC/DC songs, each seasoned with a dash of backstory.

In the wake of Malcolm Young's passing, Jesse Fink, author of The Youngs: The Brothers Who Built AC/DC, offers up his top 10 AC/DC songs, each seasoned with a dash of backstory.

Keep reading... Show less

Pauline Black may be called the Queen of Ska by some, but she insists she's not the only one, as Two-Tone legends the Selecter celebrate another stellar album in a career full of them.

Being commonly hailed as the "Queen" of a genre of music is no mean feat, but for Pauline Black, singer/songwriter of Two-Tone legends the Selecter and universally recognised "Queen of Ska", it is something she seems to take in her stride. "People can call you whatever they like," she tells PopMatters, "so I suppose it's better that they call you something really good!"

Keep reading... Show less

Morrison's prose is so engaging and welcoming that it's easy to miss the irreconcilable ambiguities that are set forth in her prose as ineluctable convictions.

It's a common enough gambit in science fiction. Humans come across a race of aliens that appear to be entirely alike and yet one group of said aliens subordinates the other, visiting violence upon their persons, denigrating them openly and without social or legal consequence, humiliating them at every turn. The humans inquire why certain of the aliens are subjected to such degradation when there are no discernible differences among the entire race of aliens, at least from the human point of view. The aliens then explain that the subordinated group all share some minor trait (say the left nostril is oh-so-slightly larger than the right while the "superior" group all have slightly enlarged right nostrils)—something thatm from the human vantage pointm is utterly ridiculous. This minor difference not only explains but, for the alien understanding, justifies the inequitable treatment, even the enslavement of the subordinate group. And there you have the quandary of Otherness in a nutshell.

Keep reading... Show less
3

A 1996 classic, Shawn Colvin's album of mature pop is also one of best break-up albums, comparable lyrically and musically to Joni Mitchell's Hejira and Bob Dylan's Blood on the Tracks.

When pop-folksinger Shawn Colvin released A Few Small Repairs in 1996, the music world was ripe for an album of sharp, catchy songs by a female singer-songwriter. Lilith Fair, the tour for women in the music, would gross $16 million in 1997. Colvin would be a main stage artist in all three years of the tour, playing alongside Liz Phair, Suzanne Vega, Sheryl Crow, Sarah McLachlan, Meshell Ndegeocello, Joan Osborne, Lisa Loeb, Erykah Badu, and many others. Strong female artists were not only making great music (when were they not?) but also having bold success. Alanis Morissette's Jagged Little Pill preceded Colvin's fourth recording by just 16 months.

Keep reading... Show less
9

Frank Miller locates our tragedy and warps it into his own brutal beauty.

In terms of continuity, the so-called promotion of this entry as Miller's “third" in the series is deceptively cryptic. Miller's mid-'80s limited series The Dark Knight Returns (or DKR) is a “Top 5 All-Time" graphic novel, if not easily “Top 3". His intertextual and metatextual themes resonated then as they do now, a reason this source material was “go to" for Christopher Nolan when he resurrected the franchise for Warner Bros. in the mid-00s. The sheer iconicity of DKR posits a seminal work in the artist's canon, which shares company with the likes of Sin City, 300, and an influential run on Daredevil, to name a few.

Keep reading... Show less
8
Pop Ten
Mixed Media
PM Picks

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

rating-image