Call it a trend — new acoustics, I suppose — or maybe artists like this have always been around. For every Jose Gonzalez, a Nick Drake; for every Vashti Bunyan, a Nico. Geka, a German chanteuse who writes short, veiled acoustic songs in the French chanson tradition, most immediately recalls the last of that list, because her soft, accented English is nothing if not charming. Her rather short debut hovers around the 30-minute mark, just eight fragile songs for sitting alone and staring out the window. Think of gentle acoustic guitars, piano, perhaps a flute in the background — the simple, isolated elements of pop.
In language- and culture-bending style, Geka’s a bit like Carla Bruni, the French-singing Italian; here, we have an extra layer, because Geka’s German, sings in English, and brings a sensibility to these songs that is very French. So, yes, Geka sings in English — which could be an opportunity for occasional, not-quite-intended poetry. But we don’t really get that so much as vague ellipses and the occasional non-sequitur. To take one example, from the song “Matches”:
Stone some fear
Profane a vow
Soften anguish of my mind
Most of the time, though, the lyrics are almost superfluous in the sense that, with most good pop songs, the actual words have less importance than the sense created by the combination of words and music.
The majority of the album is taken up by these pleasant, strummed acoustic ballads. The highlight is the aforementioned “Matches”, despite its lyrics; it’s a slow jazz-influenced ballad with a breathy, brittle melody. It sounds a bit like one of those old jazz standards, “Mr. Blue” perhaps, drained of all happiness (right down to the “dancing cheek to cheek” reference). “Homesick” brings to mind a more conventional Emiliana Torrini, with its slow, sparse accompaniment; but again, there are more jazz chords to keep things interesting. And “Superman”, which opens with the triangle-sounds of a nursery rhyme, evolves into a lilting lullaby.
Even at her most upbeat, Geka communicates a supreme sense of calm. On “Night-Stop”, which owes much to the layered vocal harmonies of the Beach Boys, the energetic percussion is a foil for the composed, serene vocal melody — though the inclusion of the saxophone in the bridge is a crime, as it takes the song from gorgeous dangerously close to parody. But there is a generous, swirling heart to the music that’s impossible to deny.
Geka’s melancholy is reminiscent of the transitory low of a romantic comedy; something in the phrasing or arrangement of these songs communicates hope, buried deep though it may be. And for a debut as slight and fragile as Station, that’s a definite accomplishment.