It might be tempting to dismiss Brooklyn’s Lia Ices as merely the next in the long line of mildly-eccentric female singer-songwriters to have emerged in recent years. But dismiss her at your peril, because Grown Unknown, her second album, is excellent – a remarkably deft blend of beauty and depth, as enjoyable as it is laudable.
The record’s allure is clear right from its very first bars – over plaintive piano, Ices’ spellbinding voice intones, “Oh, you know I need you...” And rarely does a singer’s voice characterise an album quite so strongly. Ices’ irresistible sumptuousness may be coated in a veneer of, well, iciness, but underneath lurks a perceptible terror, and it’s this sense of threat and imminent danger that turns what could have been a drably sophisticated affair into something altogether more beguiling.
The mood is enhanced further by the songs’ accompaniments. On the opening track, ‘Love Is Won’, while Ices’ stylish tones strive to keep things together, the loose, almost freeform drums and bass give the distinct impression of imminent collapse. The atmosphere runs right the way through the album – from the cobbled-together percussion on ‘Little Marriage’ and the clattering flourishes on ‘After Is Always Before’, all the way through to the haunted brass and ominous drum march on closer ‘New Myth’.
Because of the pervading mood, Grown Unknown works extremely well as a coherent whole – so much so that, towards the end of the record, tracks like ‘Ice Wine’ and ‘Lilac’ feel much more like movements in a wider symphony as opposed to songs in their own right. It’s probably a blessing, then, that the album is limited to a lean nine tracks – any more would probably have ran the risk of overkill.
But that’s not to say that it lacks variety – or, indeed, that it lacks standalone tunes. Indeed, ‘Love Is Won’, ‘Daphne’ and ‘Little Marriage’ make up as strong an opening salvo as you could wish for. ‘Daphne’ in particular, featuring the backing vocals of Bon Iver’s Justin Vernon, is rather special indeed. Beginning with folksy guitar and swooning strings, by the end it’s become a loin-girdingly epic affair, immensely satisfying.
Grown Unknown is an album that treads a fine line – in clumsier hands, this could easily have been bland ear candy for a “mature” audience. But so great is the sensitivity in both the composition and the execution, that the end result is as gripping as it is gorgeous.
8Dan Cooper-Gavin's Score