Sunday, March 3, 2013

Lisa Germano - No Elephants

On Lisa Germano's ninth LP No Elephants, the main dynamic is between a dreamy/hazy sound and very direct, focused, intense lyrics. That's been true of all of her albums, especially the most recent ones -- Magic Neighbor (2009), In the Maybe World (2006) and Lullaby for a Liquid Pig (2003), all of which were produced, like No Elephants, by Jamie Candiloro.

That dreamy/intense dynamic seems even more pronounced here, especially in comparison to her last two albums. The music is more unified, less varied, than on Magic Neighbor, with more piano, just a little guitar, a little violin, and samples and other atmospheric elements that cast the same mood across all tracks. The lyrics seem especially fierce, driven overall by a deep sense of dismay at the continued environmental devastation of our time, and particularly tragic effects on animal populations.

It’s a deceptively polemical album; the drifting, elusive qualities of her music overall tend to make cover for the fact that she’s making pointed statements against animal abuse of all sorts – from poaching elephants for their tusks to eating meat. The song “A Feast”, one of the prettiest piano songs here, in part chronicles her disgust at menu items, with references to foie gras and suckling pigs in between expressions like “how in the world?” and “God help us all”.

The feeling of the album, like all of hers, is internal. We’re inside someone’s head, hearing the pain in her thoughts but also the glimmers of hope. Mainly we’re hearing someone try to cope with what they see as a world filled with tragedies. “I need four stomachs to deal, to deal”, she sings on the first track “Ruminants”, named after the types of mammals who have four-compartment stomachs.

Germano’s focus in some ways is on capturing the perspective of someone who sees murder and abuse which others don’t recognize as such. In other words, on human indifference to the suffering of animals.  Ignoring is an action, too. “It’s only apathy and the devil / they like to hang around paradise,” she sings on “Apathy and the Devil”.

The thing about No Elephants is that it’s easy to listen to it without identifying it as an animal-rights missive – because of the music’s beauty, the way she sings in whispers and murmurs, the way the music mimics those qualities. But once the lyrics reach you, it’s hard to listen to the album without its messages on your mind. That’s to her credit. It’s a stealth attack, even when her feelings are as out in the open as possible.

No Elephants is also a majestic musical portrait of deep sadness, one built of strange sounds and comforting ones. In some ways the instrumentals carry her outrage and disappointment in the world as clearly as her singing does.

The album has a power that more naked ‘statement’ albums don’t, mainly because of how the music and lyrics are designed to pull you into someone’s thought process. She’s not making statements, she’s thinking aloud, and her thoughts can be as certain and as strange as our own. The album is also above all else a work of beauty, which means you can find yourself so lost in the sound that her thoughts slide into yours in a gentle, quiet way. 

{"And So On" Mp3}