Female singer-songwriters are a bit of a tricky one for BlackPlastic... Whenever a new album drops on the doormat from one, and in this case we are tackling two, a little sweat breaks out because they are just such dangerous territory. It would be easy, but cowardly, to just write them all off - Jewel is just bland and Dido is enough to make BlackPlastic want to chew off our own ears, but then you also have the likes of PJ Harvey, Bjork, Kate Bush, Cat Power and recently Polly Scattergood, along with BlackPlastic's personal favourite, Gemma Hayes, whose combination of dreamlike melodies and stripped back production just lets the beauty of her voice shine through.
And out of these it is Hayes whom both Maria Taylor's third solo album and Miranda Lee Richard's Light of X are most reminiscent of.
Formerly one half of Azure Ray, the dreamlike quality of Maria Taylor's previous act's music is still present here. Miranda's album has a similar feel but also sounds totally sun-drenched. If you want a slow-paced, well considered, relaxed folk album then you could do much worse than taking a listen to either of these albums but it is worth pointing out that neither is reinventing the wheel. These are not particularly experimental albums.
Both albums have their charms though. As with Gemma Hayes' and Cat Power's work by focusing on doing something simple well the songs, and each vocalist's voice, are given room to flourish.
Maria recommends listening to the album on the horizontal and it is certainly a perfect soundtrack to unwind to. The album doesn't attempt anything groundbreaking so it is at it's best when the songs come together to make perfect pop music - the haunting melodies of 'It's Time', where Taylor sings "Careful I'm barely here..." and genuinely sounds like she may be disappearing, and the soaring '100,000 Times'. Best of all is the album's closer, co-written and featuring REM's Michael Stipe on backing vocals 'Cartoons and Forever Plans' captures a timeless feeling and brings the curtain down on the album perfectly.
Light of X is more like the audioequivalentof a sun trap - it's a little tricky to hear the wandering piano of it's opening track, 'Breathless', and not want to curl up on a blanket spread out on the lawn on a sunny day. Miranda received her very first bit of guitar tuition from Kirk Hammett of Metallica, and as someone that has collaborated with Tricky, Tim Burgess (of The Charlatans) and toured with Jesus and Mary Chain (and provided duet to 'Sometimes Always' and 'Just Like Honey' in the process) you could reasonably expect something a little edgy from Miranda.
On the whole however Light of X is a slow moving, yet striking, album. It's a perfect soundtrack to a lazy sunny Sunday. Things do get a little more edgy at the album's close however - stick around after the last track proper, 'Last Days of Summer', and the album actually descends into it's own dark winter on a ghost track that has Miranda perform a spoken vocal about standing naked in the snow to a moody, bluesy baking that sounds like it comes from the same world as David Lynch's brain. It's not often BlackPlastic gets to say this - the ghost track is not just worthwhile, it's fantastic - better than the rest of the album - and the contrast it gives the rest of the album makes Light of X a much more worthwhileexercise. If Miranda's next album includes more of such experimentation it just could be great.
Miranda Lee Richards is on tour in the UK in May:
- 09.05 BIRMINGHAMThe Rainbow
- 10.05 NOTTINGHAM The Social
- 11.05 GLASGOW King Tuts
- 12.05 LIVERPOOL Academy 2
- 13.05 WINCHESTER The Railway
- 14.05 BRIGHTON The Great Escape
- 18.05 LONDON The Borderline
- 20.05 LONDON The Windmill