Back in May, Tracers and i wandered into The EARL to see Maps and Atlases play, and caught the last two energetic songs from an early-starting opener. I was really impressed with what i saw in those two songs, so after the show i bought a copy of the album (on delicious vinyl) from the two Latin girls in the band, who were standing around a side merch booth looking young and tired. I bought the record and gave them an EvilSponge card, telling them to look for a review.
And here it is, almost half a year later, and i have spent lots of intervening time listening to this record. Bellow, the debut by Sister Crayon, is an impressive release. There is a lot going on here, and although at times it is slightly under-produced (a bit murky, where certain places deserve a more clear production) it is a really good record.
Sister Crayon is, apparently, the project of Terra Lopez, who sings and does some guitar and keys. On the two songs i saw, i think she was just singing. She has a rich voice, silky and smooth, and she knows how to use it. She is assisted by Dani Fernandez (the other Latin girl i met at the merch booth), who does keyboards and electronics); and Jeffrey LaTour, the guy who wailed on his guitar in a very Guthrie-esque manner on the last tune. Live they also had a drummer, but the things i have read online do not list one as being a band member. Maybe he was a hired gun, or maybe he was added after the album was recorded.
The overall effect of Lopez's sultry voice, Fernandez's electronics, and LaTour's distorted guitar is, well, trip-hop. Bellow reminds me of early Lamb, or the first few EPs by Mandalay, or perhaps that first Heather Duby record. Good stuff, all defined by strong female vocals mixed with electronics and funky beats.
Sister Crayon do this very well.
The record kicks off with I'm Still The Same Person, a song built out of a clacking beat, some droning synths, a tinkling guitar, and her voice, sultry and subdued. Eventually drums and bass come in, and it picks up a swagger, until eventually the electronic bits overwhelm the rest of the tune, which ends in a flurry of R2D2 noises and drum machine hits.
An organ drone kicks off Here We Never Die, giving this a lethargic reggae feel. Her voice works really well with the echoed drum and the staccato reggae organ. The organ continues on And Glass..., here coupled with an almost frantic drum riff and a nice deep bass riff. This gives the song a mid-70s soul feel, and appropriately enough Lopez wails over the music, her voice a little distorted.
(in) Reverse starts off as a lullaby, the keyboards picking a short, happy melody. Drums come in, and Lopez's voice is added in layers. This is like very early Lamb, Lopez doing her best to channel Lou Rhodes here.
The A-side of the record ends with Every Third Hour, wherein her band tries to make a "big" sounding tune. This has epic vocals, Lopez singing at the top of her range while backing voices ooh and ahh over crashing cymbals and tinkling keys.
Turn the record over and we have Anti-Psalm which starts with fast electro burbling, before drumming and organ kick in, then over-driven guitar, faint in the background. Lopez sings, backed up by (i think) Fernandez. Nice enough, but it is the next tune that impresses me. It is called Thief-Boxer, Asleep,and it starts with Lopez wailing away over rumbling ambient noise for a minute, before a beat and guitar come in, and the song shambles to a chaotic conclusion. Very nice.
Sister Crayon get their goth on for Stem, and here they remind me of Mira. On the other hand, Ixchel, The Lady Rainbow is an almost 8 minute long piano ballad, mostly just piano and voice. Nice enough, in a Feistian kind of way, i suppose, but it gets a little long...
And as if sensing that they are losing my interest, the band steps it up a notch and ends the record with the lovely Souls of Gold. This starts off with the band (and more people i think) singing a chant of the song title while clapping. And then, suddenly, a funky organ and fast drum riff comes in. We are back in mid-70s soul territory, and to show they know this there is a smattering of horns over top. Lopez really shines her, her voice warbling over the soul beat and horns. This is upbeat, happy, and very very fun. A great way to end the album.
So i am impressed. Lopez and company have some interesting ideas. I am curious to see where they go next.