Charlotte Martin creates lush soundscapes that incorporate elements of opera and pop music using the piano and a bevy of electronic instruments. Her most recent album Stromata was released last week. Even though I had an advance copy, it took me a bit longer than I expected to fully absorb the music.
The title track begins with a piano phrase that feels almost cyclic. Layered on top are electronic percussion and orchestral elements that add just the right amount of oomph to expand the song from an ethereal thing to something massive. The music is what holds the song together, since the lyrics are obscurely self-referential and most phrases are broken up in order to fit the melody. Yet, this is appropriate for a song that takes its title from the name of "the supporting framework of an animal organ typically consisting of connective tissue."
"Cut the Cord" goes off in a different musical direction featuring tribal rhythms and syncopated beats. Martin's vocals are gorgeous and the music is infectious, but again the lyrics are obscure and self-referential. This is true of many songs on the album. Although Stromata is pleasant to listen to, there is often very little lyrical substance for the listener to chew on.
One exception to this is the song "Pills." Most people probably wouldn't associate the operatic goth 'n' roll Martin with geek hero singer/songwriter Jonathan Coulton, but that's only because most people don't realize that both have written songs that are roundabout criticisms of our society's obsession with taking a pill to fix everything that ails us. Coulton's "I Feel Fantastic" is more tongue-in-cheek with a sci-fi element, which is his trademark. Martin, on the other hand, delivers "Pills" with a somber sincerity. "Pills that make you think that you are happy. Pills that make you think that you are sad," she sings with the piano matching the vocal line, doubling up the melody and emphasizing the lyrics.
"Keep Me In Your Pocket" reminds me of Nellie McKay, both in style and in content. It has a strident-yet-bouncy piano line and conversational lyrics. Martin creates an additional percussive element with an emphasis on the consonants of the bridge: "Don't let the stone into the eye / Grabbing my flesh / Miss it, you're mine."
The final track on the album ("Redeemed") has a wistfully hopeful piano line that meshes well with the story of trial, triumph, and empowerment told in the lyrics.
Every tree has got her root
And every girl forbidden fruitAnd got her demons
And the path I chose to go
A different girl so long ago
I had my reasons
And she's in my head so loud
"Shouldn't you be proud of what you came from?"
Martin has every reason to be proud of Stromata. Although the lyrical content could do with less navel gazing, the production is orchestrated well and is pleasant to the ears.