Lisa Germano has made a career out of songs of world-weariness and very open, confessional lyrics. With her new album, Magic Neighbor, she still sounds like Lisa Germano, her whispy, breathy delivery still feels, well, magical as always, but there's a definite shift here that takes her into some new and surprising territory.
The album opens with "Marypan," an instrumental that sets up the themes of the album, not just sonically, but emotionally as well. It is simple and sweet with undertones of sadness and longing. It evokes a child's melody remembered across years of experience and heartbreak.
This leads into "To the Mighty One," an ode to independence, even though it may only be theoretical or imaginary. In the song the narrator speaks of an oppressor who she escapes by making up a story that puts her in control. The music echoes the lyrics, with sad, distorted notes played on a piano during the "real world" section, but once the fantasy takes over violins sweep in and the piano becomes more excited and melodious. The next song, "Simple," begins a sort of fugue, taking the themes of of "To the Mighty One" and inverting them, with the escape this time being more from one's self.
The confessional nature of her music makes it difficult to avoid imposing autobiographical elements on Ms. Germano's lyrics. All the talk of escape on this album brings to mind Germano's own self-imposed exile from the music world. Between 1998 and 2002 Germano dropped out of the major music scene to work as a clerk in a Hollywood bookstore. She returned to the music industry swinging, with two albums, Lullaby for Liquid Pig and In the Maybe World, which were investigations on wrestling with abuses and death respectively. She seemed out to prove that she'd lost none of her edge or incisive observations. Although she succeeded in successfully restarting her career, when she sings "Bitter and worn out girl/ No one feels sorry for you," on "Simple" it's hard not to feel that Germano may be chastising herself a bit.
Which is not to say that the album wallows in self-pity or shame. On "Prince of Plati" Germano entreats a companion, "You could tell me a story, play with me." Playing and storytelling are central to the album, showing up one way or another in nearly every song. Even on "A Million Times," the albums most typical singer/songwriter tune about, what else, a bad relationship, Germano frames the relationship as a game she enters into time after time, even though she knows it's rigged for failure and hurt. The album also contains "Snow," arguably the sweetest song Lisa Germano has ever sung. It's dreamy, wistful lyrics and ethereal melody make it a beautiful and emotional soundscape.
The album concludes with "Cocoon," a song whose lyrics seem to play with the idea of butterflies in one's stomach and relating that sensation of nervous anxiety to being within a cocoon. "If they're supposed to be inside," says the song, "and I'm supposed to feel this way, make me a butterfly." It is telling that the final song on this very different album from Lisa Germano is one about transformation.
It is also potentially quite telling that on her website her discography has a thesis statement for every album she's released. Although Magic Neighbor is already out on shelves now, there's no description for the disc. Perhaps this is simply due to a lazy website manager, or perhaps Ms. Germano still does not quite know what she's created here. Regardless of what is eventually put into that little box of text, Lisa Germano, an endearing and enduring artist, has shown that she is also evolving. Here's hoping she gets to be that butterfly.