Monday, June 2, 2008

Record Review: My Brightest Diamond

My Brightest Diamond
A Thousand Shark's Teeth
[2008, Asthmatic Kitty Records]

On Bring Me The Workhorse, Shara Worden, leader of My Brightest Diamond, wrought elegant beauty from sorrow. It was a despondent album; even in its happier, more upbeat moments, an undertone of melancholy was ever present, almost tangible. On MBD’s sophomore album, she hasn’t cheered up much. Though there are moments of levity, the record as a whole is icy and aloof. Although sadness is prevalent throughout, it’s by no means a boring, indulgently depressing record. Rather, Worden has created a truly exciting, and very cathartic work.

A Thousand Shark’s Teeth adds substantially to the firmly constructed instrumental foundations of My Brightest Diamond’s debut. French horn provides a warm, comforting element to “From The Top of the World”, while crystalline harp shimmers on “To Pluto's Moon” and “The Brightest Diamond”. Marimba is used extensively throughout (“Black and Costaud”, “Bass Player”, “Like a Sieve”), but seems most at home on the coy, playful “Apples”. Worden even implements a prepared piano on what seems to be her homage to 20th century avant-garde composition (she has confessed to having a crush on Pierre Boulez), in the aforementioned “Like a Sieve”.

Many pop songs employ haphazardly attached string sections in an attempt to be emotionally effective. Often, though, their inclusion results in overwrought bombast.  As it was originally conceived several years ago as a project to be performed with only a string quartet supplementing Worden’s voice, the string arrangements on Shark’s Teeth are integral, and intricately woven into this brilliant tapestry of an album. Of course, the most important instrument in My Brightest Diamond is Worden’s time honed voice. She commands a wide vocal range on Shark’s Teeth, often transitioning from a sinister, low whisper to a clear soprano within a few short measures.  Despite a vocal timbre that's often funereally frigid (though incomparably beautiful in the realm of pop music), the album is hardly inhuman or difficult to relate to. The singer's unabashed vulnerability is what makes the album feel profoundly human. 

Though a few songs hint at satisfying, idyllic love, the majority of the album explores frustration with(in) relationships. Tension builds and releases through the duration of “The Ice & The Storm”, in which the singer beseeches a love to “let go”, and simply open up to her so she can “love him endlessly”. At the song's climax (one of the most beautiful moments of the album), the tension is finally alleviated, as delicate, legato guitar arpeggios spiral downward alongside Worden's angelic voice. On “Goodbye Forever”, she plaintively begs her love to “come closer” and become vulnerable, for fear of losing him if he doesn’t. “To Pluto’s Moon” finds Worden lamenting a love who left, questioning in vain why he did. The desperation in this performance (reminiscent of Workhorse’s “Gone Away” and “We Were Sparkling”) exemplifies the devastating capability of her work.

 A Thousand Shark’s Teeth is very satisfying, and gives much more than I could have asked for from a sophomore record. Deft instrumental arrangements, honest and intriguing songwriting, and Worden’s gorgeous, lush vocals combine almost flawlessly for an over-too-soon 45 minutes. Even the rather mundane “apples” feels appropriate, a lighthearted palate cleanser to prepare for the rest of the album’s heavyhearted subject matter. A Thousand Shark’s Teeth is one of the best records of 2008 thus far, and a brilliant return to form for Shara Worden and My Brightest Diamond.

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