Charlotte Church: Three

Release Date: August 19, 2013

THREE is part of a set of 5 EPs that Charlotte is in the process of releasing. Previous Reviews: ONE and TWO

I’ve talked at length about Charlotte’s new music and a bit about how she got there, so I won’t rehash all of that here. I was absolutely floored by her TWO EP earlier this year and became and instant fan. That record is pretty serious art/alt rock and (having not heard ONE) it set something of an expectation for me. So, when she released the track “I Can Dream” (from THREE) about a month ago, I was immediately taken aback. This was not what I was expecting.

Once I got my hands on the entire record, I remained surprised – not hearing what I would have expected as a followup to TWO. But by the time I finished my first listen-through it had become an immediate favorite and I’m still playing it sometimes multiple times each day.

With an EP I would typically offer up a track-by-track evaluation, but this record renders that approach obsolete. Tracks bleed from one into another and 26 minutes feels like 10 as you lose yourself in a holistic, engulfing experience. The album artwork absolutely captures the fluid aesthetic of the entire record as seen in the video for the track “Water Tower“.

While I wouldn’t consider it the strongest track on the album, “Water Tower” is a great indicator for the record. It showcases everything that makes Charlotte (and her band’s) music what it is. Restraint, subtlety, power, creativity. It’s all there on this track.

In my opinion, the strongest track on the record is “Magician’s Assistant“. Placed squarely in the center of the record, this song sort-of sneaks up on you with another subtle beginning giving way to impassioned conclusion. The composition reminds me a lot of the modular songwriting that Brian Wilson employed on his magnum opus SMiLE. Seemingly dichotomous choruses, verses and instrumental portions meld together brilliantly and take the listener on an unbelievable journey.

One of the tricks with producing such tonally rich music is finding a way to bring the same soul to a variety of performances of that music. While I can’t wait to see some live full-band performance video, for now I’m making due with a recent in-studio acoustic performance of “Like a Fool” from BBC2 radio (@ 3:50 below). Such a performance only goes to disprove any naysayers about what this artist has become. Does she demand some level of attention based on name alone? Certainly. But this new career (as discussed in the interview below) is a team effort built on solid songwriting, fantastic musicianship, and incomparable vocals. That much should be undeniable.

One of the only drawbacks of this album is that it differs so much from even Charlotte’s other recent work. While different sounds are going to connect with a variety of audiences differently, I wouldn’t be surprised if this one has less of an immediate impact as either ONE or TWO. But, then, isn’t that true of so many great records? After all, it took 40 years for Wilson to get SMiLE made.

Charlotte Church: Two

Release Date: Mar 4, 2013

The vision of this site is to introduce people to great music. You may have seen me post several videos now from a UK site called “The Line of Best Fit“. They are for me what I hope this site is for you. When I rolled into my desk yesterday morning and saw them posting a video by Charlotte Church (yes, that Charlotte Church), I was obviously taken aback. Then I was devastated by some of the best music I’ve heard this year.

I have a thing for powerful vocalists and so I appreciate what folks like Josh Groban and Church have done. And I desperately hate to see such talent wasted (Christina Aguilera). But at the same time I’m not a fan of classical or classical-inspired pop. And all of those things make this project amazing. For full background, I’ll let you read Best Fit’s article, I’ll just focus on this EP.

TWO is the aptly-titled second of five EPs to be released over the course of the next 12-18 months. ONE is more of a straight-forward indie-rock sound while TWO is more ethereal. As with the previous EP that I reviewed, I’ll just go through this one track by track because it works that way.

Glitterbombed: With the title and the cover image, you might expect some sort of  trance/house sound. Let me allay your fears. This is synth heavy, but but the toms on the chorus keep it grounded while Church’s sweeping vocals carry you away. The song is interspersed with interview in the video below.

Breach of Peace: This track ebbs and flows. It begins really straight-forward, then develops some more elemental sounds. The vocals on the chorus just take it to a whole other level.  Having read a few words about her journey in recent years, I find that the lyrics are probably very personal and that only adds to the quality of the vocal.

Mistress: I don’t know about this one and why it’s here. It doesn’t sound like it belongs and so I can only guess that it means something in a bigger context that’s yet to be revealed/understood.

Nerve: This is the song that Best Fit introduced me to. It has a Fiona Apple-esque sensibility to it. It’s art-alternative to the core. But most importantly, the passion bleeds from every pore in both it’s strongest and most delicate moments.

Last, or Eschaton:  It’s probably a faulty comparison, but for some reason Beth Orton comes to mind (at least songs like “Paris Train” and “Daybreaker.”) The closing minute and a half of the record takes a decided turn with a fusion of dubstep buzzes, sitar, atmospherics, driving drums and guitars. Beautiful.

[Aside: After posting this album on Facebook yesterday, a little conversation arose about some comments that Church made following 9/11/01. I came to her defense by saying, at the very best, she was only 15 and should get a modicum of grace. This led to a discussion of people’s personal life and their music, etc. For a reflection on how personal life and music cross paths, let me direct you here. For a great video about celebrities screwing up, doing stupid things, and finding grace let me direct you here.]