Wednesday, October 18, 2017

Sarah Donner - Black Hole Heart (2016)

Written by Pamela Bellmore, posted by blog admin

Sarah Donner’s Black Hole Heart illustrates how this singer/songwriter’s continued growth is making a case for her not being one of the most talented and promising figures on the indie scene, but as one of the best songwriters rising up through the ranks today. Her talents also cut against any notion of gender – this isn’t your stereotypical “chick” singer/songwriter specializing in appropriately heart-quaking odes to broken hearts and spurned love. The dozen songs included on Black Hole Heart speak directly to listeners, indulge in a meaningful amount of literary flair, and demonstrate uniformity of musical quality we don’t often hear on such extended collections./ There’s no danger of over-reach with Sarah Donner’s Black Hole Heart. Instead, the album’s dozen songs are uncluttered, pointed, and frequently quite eloquent.

It begins with the delightfully arranged “Phoenix” Referencing the mythological bird who rose from ashes to fly again is a popular trope in the arts, even popular song, and Donner’s writing definitely implies a deep connection with the story. She demonstrates a light touch, however, despite the potentially weighty subject matter and the song’s clipped, acoustic guitar based melodicism is complemented by a superb bass line courtesy of Jay Buchanan. The title cut has a sound quite unlike anything else you’ll hear in this style and the simmering qualities of its arrangement are married nicely with Donner’s emotive voice. Her writing talents for invoking a character’s voice come to the fore with the song “Tamsen Donner 1847” and the darkness edging in along the margins of her narrative are masterfully controlled – it never drags the lyrics entirely into unpleasantness and despair, but we get the sense that it is right around the corner.  “Athena” is a beautifully wrought and lilting tune with snowflake like delicacy that seems to sparkle around the listener.. Donner has a supreme talent for invoking textures with minimal instrumental support and it illustrates how deep her melodic skills run.

The inclusion of brass on “The Flood” pairs tightly together with the tempo’s light, intermittent gallop. It doesn’t maintain a constant presence in the song, but punctuates it nicely and brings an extra layer to its musicality. There’s a slightly skewed quality to certain passages as well. She indulges her love for classical imagery once again with the song “Albatross” and its undeniable that Donner’s able to bring some literary significance to her songwriting. Never mistake this for some stilted, unmusical touch – the lyrics, no matter their quality, are always complementary to the music and vice versa. Michael McLean duets with Donner on the graceful and lovely “All the Things” and it ranks among the album’s best moments, but another crucial factor in the song’s success is light percussion providing an intensely rhythmic pulse. The haunted quality of the album finale “Sol 549” is tempered by its melodic beauty and makes for a gentle, muted close to Donner’s album. Black Hole Heart is a moody collection at some points and Donner’s self-appraisal can seem rather withering, but the humanity behind this group of songs is unmistakable.

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