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Music Review: Kimya Dawson – Hidden Vagenda

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I don't make a habit of reading people's blogs that are along the lines of diaries. I really don't have that much interest in most people's innermost thoughts or what they daydream about their boy or girl friend. I've got enough of my own shit to deal with, thank you very much. Now, there's a but, as I'm sure you heard in the first sentence, I will read the diary/blog/journal of someone who has a track record of writing, recording, making observations on life, that are interesting, or if they are performers/artists whose work is of such a nature that you might as well have read their diary.

Some clarification on that last point; I'm not a fan of people who think that singing or writing about their lives and the trauma's they've experienced is art or even entertainment. That sort of stuff belongs confined between the four walls of an office and in your therapist's files. What I do like, and am highly appreciative of, are those people who manage to take their life experiences and either use them as examples to make a point, or relate them in such a manner that they become an expression of something that transcends the personal.

The painter Frida Kahlo created a series of self portraits that depicted the various traumas and calamities that befell her during her lifetime. While the subject matter was highly personal, such was her skill as an artist she was able to create works that spoke universal truths about being a woman, an artist, and disabled. They were so powerful and honest that an observer could appreciate the emotions she was depicting without having to undergo any of the experiences the painter herself had been through.
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Knowing the type of music I'm interested in, a young friend of mine suggested that I might want to check out the work of Kimya Dawson whose work he described as quirky and really intelligent. After watching the video he had sent me a link too, I was intrigued enough to follow up and check out her web presence (the link above) and was delighted by her mix of emotional honesty, twisted humour, and what seemed to be an all around perceptive nature.

Listening to what I take to be her most recent release Hidden Vagenda, available through KREC Records, not only confirmed the opinion I had formed from reading and perusing her web site, but revealed an artist (a term I don't use lightly) of passion and intelligence. Ms. Dawson is not only able to look at the world around her and use her music to relate her reactions with wit and honest indignity, but has the wonderful ability to take the personal and make it universal. In all honesty, (and I'm not familiar with her personal life with the exception of knowing she has a young child and a partner), when listening to her music it's impossible to know whether or not she's relating something that happened directly to her, or is merely telling a story.

Whether she is or not isn't relevant anyway. What's important is the fact what she sings about rings true emotionally and is able to strike chords of recognition in a listener whether they are familiar with the stories she's recounting or not. Take the song "Moving On" for example. It is an amazing testimony to the strength needed for a woman to leave both an abusive relationship and to turn her back on an abusive parent. There's no elaborate descriptions, just plain simple words that communicate the reality of that situation far better than anybody else I've ever heard sing about those circumstances.

Dealing with grief is probably one of the hardest things for us in this modern world to do; there just doesn't seem to be the time allowed for us to do the grieving we think we owe the person we love. The worst thing is people telling you that you'll get over it, how do you ever get over the hole in your life where a person once lived? Kimya Dawson's song "It's Been Raining" has to be one of the most honest songs about death and dealing with grief that I've heard sung by anyone: "I've been crying since the first time someone I loved passed away".

Grief doesn't dissipate with the passing of years, it accumulates, and this is the first time I've ever felt that a singer, or anybody else for that matter, has really understood that sensation. Perhaps just reading the line above you aren't able to see that, but that's part of what makes Kimya such a remarkable performer; her ability to deliver a line like that and communicate so much with so little.

Musically, Kimya Dawson isn't easy too define because she's just as likely to sing unaccompanied by anything but the strumming of her guitar, as she is to have an electric guitar and full band behind her. If you wanted to compare her and the feel of her music to anyone, I'd have to say if you were somehow able to combine The Band and Kate and Anna McGarrigle you'd have a vague idea of what she sounds like. The reality is she's very much her own person; (although readers of Stephanie McMillan's cartoon Minimum Security will recognize a kindred spirit) and as much as the word is over used today, she really is unique.

There are not many performers, artists, writers, or creative people of any stripe who can take reality and relate it in such a way that their audience can appreciate it on a personal level, or who can take their personal story and make it have universal appeal. Kimya Dawson is that rarest of rarities in that she can do both, and be interesting musically at the same time. If you haven't listened to Kimya Dawson yet do so, you've been depriving yourself of a genuine pleasure.

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About Richard Marcus

Richard Marcus is the author of two books commissioned by Ulysses Press, "What Will Happen In Eragon IV?" (2009) and "The Unofficial Heroes Of Olympus Companion". Aside from Blogcritics his work has appeared around the world in publications like the German edition of Rolling Stone Magazine and the multilingual web site Qantara.de. He has been writing for Blogcritics.org since 2005 and has published around 1900 articles at the site.
  • maya

    lullaby for the taken makes me cry