Wednesday, December 26, 2007

Let me sum up 2007 with one artist.

posted by Ramon Medina - LP4 @ 12:01 AM

Given that Skyline Network's Skyline 50 made any other top lists redundant (See Part 1, 2, 3, 4, 5) , I thought it would be better to spend my time thinking of an artist that, for me, really summed up 2007 better than anyone. That wasn't an easy task given the explosion of talent in this town this year: the brutality of Insect Warfare's album, the pop perfection of the Something Fierce split 7", the laid back yet undeniably brilliant from start to finish Jana Hunter LP, the singular sound on the Balaclavas limited run CDs, the gorgeous prog of Tambersauro's split 10", all those great Grey Ghost CDRs at Domy Books featuring everyone and their mother (Blades, The Dimes, Mlee Marie, Ben Murphy, etc.), and let's not forget that we finally saw that Bring Back The Guns CD hit the shelves. That list could go on and on, yet, in the end, one name just kept scrolling through my head - Mlee Suprean (Hearts of Animals/Mlee Marie).

Every once in a great while we get a musician or a band that gives everyone a little shake-up - musicians whose talent, creativity, and style simply redefine the game - acts like Jana Hunter, The Dimes, and Dry Nod. When that happens, the ground shakes and you simply need a minute to get your bearings again. This year, for me, it was spinning the quietly released Lemming Baby by Hearts of Animals. Much like when I first heard the Dimes, it was apparent that here was something special and unique going on and before you knew it Suprean was everywhere - 002 Magazine, Houstonist, Skyline, Space City Rock, Houston Press, the KTRU top 35 playlist, and our humble little paper and blog. That explosion of coverage happened for one reason - a unique talent had landed.

I remember when I was a kid and I'd hear John Lennon's albums and some songs were just so personal as to make me cringe. For a kid, that was simply more than I needed to know. The thing is, as I got older, I came to really appreciate those songs because, in Lennon expressing and sharing these personal songs, he would in turn reflect our own foibles and humanity. While Suprean takes a more abstracted form in her lyrics, the effect is no less jarring. Suprean's songs are awash in the uncertainty of life. Nothing has a resolution and you are suspended in that moment of hope and fear. Make no mistake, that kind of material is pretty risky and it takes some serious guts to expose yourself to an audience like that. In the wrong hands it could sound as corny as some trope riddled high school poetry scribblings. Yet, in the right hands, like Suprean's, the material sounds adult - complex, conflicted, and human - and that takes some real talent.

The material is especially tricky because the music has to carry the weight of those lyrics. Approach those with anything less than great music and you are left with shrill self-absorption. Mercifully, Suprean is gifted with an inspired sense of the melodic and a sharp sense of arrangement and texture. When Suprean writes a song, she not only knows how to put it together but she's very specific about the context in which to present it. Hearts of Animals is a dense wash of crunchy garage guitar, Casio keyboards, and layers of harmonies and sounds while Mlee Marie presents more organic arrangements. Some oldsters often mistake the purposefully noisy sound of Hearts of Animals as some accidental amateur work simply because they expect certain rock clinches and without those they find themselves lost without a compass. But let me offer those oldsters a simple juxtaposition: take the clever second half of Noche De Paz from her Mlee Marie Xmas series - the guitars are clean, full, and pastiche of the "live" sound is simply droll. I highlight the production on this cover song because it is radically different in production than Hearts of Animals. The point being that the woman knows what she is doing and is in full control of the end result.

But getting away from the production, when you get down to the nitty-gritty none of this would matter if the songs didn't hum in our brain incessantly and the melodies do just that. if you want one examples of her melodic strength, take December (also from her Mlee Marie Xmas) which is a lovely example of Suprean's melodic fingerpicking playing off of her vocal melody. But while Mlee Marie's stripped down simplicity is no less intoxicating, it's Hearts of Animals that got everyone's attention this year with it's noisy take on pop music. The ragged density of songs like Underwater Staggie, Hearts Break, and Stars Say No may have confused some but I see it as part of a tradition of subversive pop (think Jesus and Mary Chain's Psychocandy) where rich melodies are shorn of the glittery patina that so often surrounds them. It's pop that doesn't take the listener for granted.

Lastly, I think one thing that is refreshing about Suprean is that she is also enthusiastic and generous about the music of her friends. It's lovely to see someone ecstatic to help out her friends be it Oculous Sinister or Wols get some exposure. Yes, talent and an oversized ego need not go together - thank God.

So, all in all, when I think back musically to 2007 , I will remember it as the year we were introduced to Mlee Suprean's singlar talent and how Houston just became a cooler city for it.

1 Comments:

At December 27, 2007 at 11:35 AM , Blogger ms. rosa said...

nice writing. and i couldn't agree more with you.

 

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