Monday, June 23, 2008

My Brightest Diamond - A Thousand Shark's Teeth

My Brightest Diamond
A Thousand Shark's Teeth (2008)
Grade: B-

Download: My Brightest Diamond - "Inside a Boy"

One of the oldest tricks in the avant-garde playbook is to start off with your most abrasive, least-accessible track in order to throw-off potentially casual listeners who would otherwise be delighted by the more accessible material that follows. The most modern examples of this behavior include Bright Eyes ("Lifted") and Clap Your Hands Say Yeah (both albums).

For their second album, A Thousand Shark's Teeth, My Brightest Diamond, led by Sufjan Stevens collaborator Shara Warden, perform the inverse of this gimmick. That is, the record begins with its most straightforward songs. I'm not sure "Inside a Boy" and "Ice & The Storm" qualify as MBD putting its best foot forward, but these tracks are certainly the most inviting and forthcoming for the listener. From there, Shark's Teeth withdraws into a self-indulgently artistic, symphono-rock cocoon. Aside from peeking its musical head out occasionally, Groundhog-style, it is a place where the album is unfortunately content to stay.

Teeth may please music fans who are alienated by Bjork's more idiosyncratic tendencies (Moe Syzlak's characterization of post-modernism as "<"weird for the sake of weird" would ring true to most Bjork detractors), or wish that Radiohead's post-Ok Computer, Pre-In Rainbows material had more warmth. But for those already well-versed with the previously mentioned acts, My Brightest Diamond's Teeth will only make a few marks.

(My Brightest Diamond - "Black and Costraud" - Live at Berklee)

While My Brightest Diamond's debut album, Bring Me The Workhorse, took its cues from Jeff Buckley's brand of lush, romantically orchestral brand of Zeppelin-derived rock music, it was an album that certainly could be admired, but not really enjoyed on a visceral level. However, it should be noted that my opinion was in the minority--Workhorse showed up on many best-of lists for 2006. Despite not being wholly gung-ho about MBD, I still looked forward to a follow-up. Why? Because, live, My Brightest Diamond packs a punch that is not readily present in their studio output. Simply put, getting the Led out was still a possibility.

So when one hears the slow, string-driven crescendo give in to a driving, octave-guitar line in "Inside a Boy", the hope that My Brightest Diamond will successfully bridge the worlds of classical music and rock is a strong one. After all, given the fact that Warden is a trained opera singer, MBD's crown jewel is--literally--classically trained to rock our fucking socks off. If she's successful, then that might mean that rock might not be so bogus anymore. Right, KG? Right.

But alas, poor Horatio, Teeth does seek muchies from the rock Salad Bar. Rather, A Thousand's Shark Teeth, is a more dreamy, contemplative affair than its title or first single suggest. Songs like "If I Were Queen" and "To Pluto's Moon" showcase an amazing command of arrangement, instrumentation, and song dynamics. Furthermore, Warden possesses a voice that fly and flutter like the most graceful of birds. How can any of those attributes be viewed in any kind of critical, negative light?

The reason is that, for all of her considerable technical skill and ambition as a musician (sorry for the rhyme), Warden is a little uncreative as a songwriter. The basic fact is this: Radiohead and Bjork got to where Warden wants to be first. She's Bjork without the eccentricities and Radiohead without the paranoia. And both without the electronics. Considering that those traits are essential to each artist's raison d'etre, what does that make My Brightest Diamond?

The answer is hard to give. However, based on tracks like xylophone-driven "Apples" and the Danny-Elfman-as-interpreted-by Radiohead gothic-symphony that is "Black and Costrud", A Thousand Shark's Teeth could have quite the journey down the old musical rabbit-hole. Instead, it offers a few bright spots--check out the transcendent "From the Top of The World"--but is ultimately sunk by its own artistic complacency.

Buy A Thousand Shark's Teeth here.

My Brightest Diamond MySpace Page

(Jonathan Graef)

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