Music

Christina Carter: Original Darkness

Charalambides singer with gorgeous and strikingly effective voice serves up strident, awkward polemics.


Christina Carter

Original Darkness

Label: Kranky
US Release Date: 2008-10-27
UK Release Date: Available as import
Amazon
iTunes

Just so there’s no doubt in your mind: Christina Carter has an amazing voice. And not just in the technical sense; sure, she can soar and project and caress with the best of them, but she can also drone and flutter like nobody’s business. More than anything else, Carter’s voice is an effective one – she seems to have little or no ego about how conventionally pretty she sounds on a given song as long as she manages to move the listener. Of course, this move is often towards being creeped out or shaken rather than towards something more comforting.

Carter’s work with Charalambides has been consistently strong and strange, but here she avoids almost all of the sonic excess that band sometimes produces in favour of laser-like compositional and sonic focus. It’s a move that suits her voice – this is a solo record in the truest sense, and Carter is only accompanied by the guitar or keyboard she’s playing. There’s a lot of space in these songs, but at the same time a lot of intensity, as if Carter is in her head still fighting to be heard over the kind of torrent of noise Charalambides is capable of making. The result is a brief album that darkly mantra-like, especially on the opening title track and “I Do Not Love a Woman”. On many of the songs here it’s hard to avoid being snared by Carter’s voice and the genuine passion she brings to her singing. Despite the power of her instrument, however, Original Darkness can be a bit of a letdown.

“Suffering” and “In Prisoned Body,” for example, are both undercut by lyrics about “the way of wrong power” and “the true crimes” that strike an uneasy balance between the kind of fuzzy leftist thinking Fox gets mileage out of mocking and the kind of mildly Eastern-flavoured mysticism that makes one want to pull out the Bhagavad Gita just to cleanse your palate. Carter’s own stance may be more complex and charitable than it comes across here, but the result of boiling down a lot of complicated beliefs and issues into minimalistic song form is that Carter sounds less wise and otherworldly and more like the most strident member of your yoga class. I should note that I’m personally sympathetic to Carter’s political and religious affiliations on Original Darkness, so this isn’t an ideological disagreement spilling over onto aesthetic grounds. It’s more a case where as much as I may appreciate the ends, the means are a little wince inducing.

To Carter’s credit, her earnest condemnations are directed at herself and her audience as much as any spooky Republican Other, and she often phrases her harsher points in a song like “Capable of Murder” as rhetorical questions. But it’s always clear what answer any reasonable person is supposed to come to with those rhetorical questions, and phrasing such as “In Prisoned Body”’s “cops kill men without reason” and the blanket damning of soldiers on “Capable of Murder” are at best one-sided and unfair (and a little grotesque in that out-of-touch way radicals usually are). Song-as-polemic is an honourable tradition, but also a widely misused one, and you don’t have to be an uncritical “support our troops!” mouthbreather to think that Carter could stand a little more nuance in the worldview she presents here.

Of course, most listeners who are going to find Original Darkness, or Carter in general, compelling are likely to be on board with her earnest condemnations and fervent delivery – music this severe and forceful demands and rewards the kind of take-it-or-leave-it stances (sonically and lyrically) Carter adopts here. The rest of us can make do with the mysterious and harshly beautiful likes of “Original Darkness”, “Re-Found Mary”, and “Do You Recognize My Voice?”, even if the rest of this album is easier to respect than to love.

6

The year in song reflected the state of the world around us. Here are the 70 songs that spoke to us this year.

70. The Horrors - "Machine"

On their fifth album V, the Horrors expand on the bright, psychedelic territory they explored with Luminous, anchoring the ten new tracks with retro synths and guitar fuzz freakouts. "Machine" is the delicious outlier and the most vitriolic cut on the record, with Faris Badwan belting out accusations to the song's subject, who may even be us. The concept of alienation is nothing new, but here the Brits incorporate a beautiful metaphor of an insect trapped in amber as an illustration of the human caught within modernity. Whether our trappings are technological, psychological, or something else entirely makes the statement all the more chilling. - Tristan Kneschke

Keep reading... Show less

Electronic music is one of the broadest-reaching genres by design, and 2017 highlights that as well as any other year on record. These are the 20 best albums.


20. Vitalic - Voyager (Citizen)

Pascal Arbez-Nicolas (a.k.a. Vitalic) made waves in the French Touch electro-house scene with his 2005 debut, OK Cowboy, which had a hard-hitting maximalist sound, but several albums later, Voyager finds him launching into realms beyond at his own speed. The quirky, wallflower vocals and guitar snippets employed throughout Voyager drop a funk that brings to mind WhoMadeWho or Matthew Dear if they had disco-pop injected between their toes. "Levitation" is as pure a slice of dance floor motivation as theoretically possible, a sci-fi gunfight with a cracking house beat sure to please his oldest fans, yet the album-as-form is equally effective in its more contemplative moments, like when Miss Kitten's vocals bring an ethereal dispassion to "Hans Is Driving" to balance out its somber vocoder or the heartfelt cover of "Don't Leave Me Now" by Supertramp. Voyager may infect you with a futuristic form of Saturday Night Fever, but afterwards, it gives you a hearty dose of aural acetaminophen to break it. - Alan Ranta



19. Antwood: Sponsored Content (Planet Mu)

Sponsored Content is a noisy, chaotic, occasionally beautiful work with a dark sense of humor that's frequently deployed to get Antwood's point across. For instance, throughout the aforementioned "Disable Ad Blocker", which sounds mostly like the creepy side of Tangerine Dream's early '80s experimental output, distorted slogans and recognizable themes worm their way into the mix. "I'm Loving It", we hear at one point, the Sony PlayStation startup music at another. And then there's a ten-second clip of what sounds like someone getting killed in a horror movie. What is there to make of the coexistence of those sorts of samples? Probably nothing explicit, just the uneasiness of benign and instantly-recognizable brand content in the midst of harsh, difficult art. Perhaps quality must to some extent be tied to sponsorship. That Antwood can make this point amidst blasts and washes of experimental electronic mayhem is quite the achievement. - Mike Schiller



18. Bonobo - Migration (Ninja Tune)

Although Bonobo, a.k.a. Simon Green, has been vocal in the past about not making personality driven music, Migration is, in many respects, a classic sounding Bonobo record. Green continues to build sonic collages out of chirping synths, jazz-influenced drums, sweeping strings and light touches of piano but on Migration sounds more confident than ever. He has an ability to tap into the emotions like few others such as on the gorgeous "Break Apart" and the more percussive "Surface". However, Bonobo also works to broaden his sound. The electro-classical instrumental "Second Sun" floats along wistfully, sounding like it could have fit snugly onto a Erased Tapes compilation, while the precise and intricate "Grains" shows the more intimate and reflective side of his work. On the flipside, the higher tempo, beat driven tracks such as "Outlier" and "Kerala" perfectly exhibit his understanding of what works on the dance floor while on "Bambro Koyo Ganda" he even weaves North African rhythms into the fabric. Migration is a multifaceted album full of personality and all the better for it. - Paul Carr


17. Kiasmos - Blurred EP (Erased Tapes)

The Icelandic duo of Olafur Arnalds and Janus Rasmussen, aka Kiasmos, is a perfect example of a pair of artists coming from two very different musical backgrounds, finding an unmistakable common ground to create something genuinely distinctive. Arnalds, more known for his minimal piano and string work, and Rasmussen, approaching from a more electropop direction, have successfully explored the middle ground between their different musical approaches and in doing so crafted affecting minimalist electronic music. Blurred is one of the most emotionally engaging electronic releases of the year. The duo is working from a refined and bright sonic palette as they consummately layer fine, measured sounds together. It is an intricate yet unforced and natural sounding set of songs with every song allowed room to bloom gradually. - Paul Carr



16. Ellen Allien - Nost (BPitch Control)

BPitch boss and longtime lynchpin of the DJ scene in Berlin, Ellen Allien's seven full-length releases show an artist constantly reinventing herself. Case in point, her 2013 offering, LISm, was a largely beat-less ambient work designed to accompany an artsy dance piece, while its follow-up, 2017's Nost, is a hardcore techno journey, spiritually born in the nightclubs and warehouses of the early '90s. It boasts nine straight techno bangers, beautifully minimalist arrangements with haunting vocals snippets and ever propulsive beats, all of which harken back to a hallowed, golden, mostly-imagined age when electronic music was still very much underground, and seemingly anything was possible. - Alan Ranta

It's just past noon on a Tuesday, somewhere in Massachusetts and Eric Earley sounds tired.

Since 2003, Earley's band, Blitzen Trapper, have combined folk, rock and whatever else is lying around to create music that manages to be both enigmatic and accessible. Since their breakthrough album Furr released in 2008 on Sub Pop, the band has achieved critical acclaim and moderate success, but they're still some distance away from enjoying the champagne lifestyle.

Keep reading... Show less

Aaron Sorkin's real-life twister about Molly Bloom, an Olympic skier turned high-stakes poker wrangler, is scorchingly fun but never takes its heroine as seriously as the men.

Chances are, we will never see a heartwarming Aaron Sorkin movie about somebody with a learning disability or severe handicap they had to overcome. This is for the best. The most caffeinated major American screenwriter, Sorkin only seems to find his voice when inhabiting a frantically energetic persona whose thoughts outrun their ability to verbalize and emote them. The start of his latest movie, Molly's Game, is so resolutely Sorkin-esque that it's almost a self-parody. Only this time, like most of his better work, it's based on a true story.

Keep reading... Show less
7

There's something characteristically English about the Royal Society, whereby strangers gather under the aegis of some shared interest to read, study, and form friendships and in which they are implicitly agreed to exist insulated and apart from political differences.

There is an amusing detail in The Curious World of Samuel Pepys and John Evelyn that is emblematic of the kind of intellectual passions that animated the educated elite of late 17th-century England. We learn that Henry Oldenburg, the first secretary of the Royal Society, had for many years carried on a bitter dispute with Robert Hooke, one of the great polymaths of the era whose name still appears to students of physics and biology. Was the root of their quarrel a personality clash, was it over money or property, over love, ego, values? Something simple and recognizable? The precise source of their conflict was none of the above exactly but is nevertheless revealing of a specific early modern English context: They were in dispute, Margaret Willes writes, "over the development of the balance-spring regulator watch mechanism."

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