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There is an eccentricity in all true storytellers. Fantastic ideas don’t come from thin air. What fuels storytellers, though, is experience: the good and the bad in life, the images we take away from the everyday, the stories we hear from others that are filed away for later use. They can be darkened for adults or coloured brightly for children. They can be related as is, no matter how dull or ridiculous. Wherever these ideas come from, they affect us.
Living With Ants, the debut album from Lauren Doss aka Mechanical Bride has the patina of experience over it. There is a certain knowingness in her voice, and not just in the impressive control she exacts over it; regardless of volume or note she keeps it calm and measured, sometimes with eerie precision.
As Doss describes pastoral images of magpies and village fetes to pair with storybook images of monkey choruses and peach wolves, there is a certain world weariness to suggest that no matter what she shares, there is something always held back. This is most clear in songs of complicated relationships, the transparent example in her paraphrasing of Red Riding Hood in lead single 'Colour of Fire.'
These whimsical, sometimes surreal stories are are told softly and accompanied with a similar light touch. The piano takes the lead on the majority of songs, providing the minimal bones that structure her tunes. Sometimes they are aided by little more than Doss’s vocals. Mostly, she chooses to accent her songs rather than fill them out, with cellos, flutes, and trumpets spicing up outros while preserving the sparseness at the core of the songs. Her arrangements are largely cold, with the instruments all fitting together very carefully, but nothing ever completely blending.
The common theme of the album gives the songs a plonking repetition that breathes with comfort and familiarity and lends an air of security. Not that she clings to any formula: 'Walk Into the Forest' hints at a jazz influence, and 'Demons' shouts it from the rooftops. Vocal harmonies, whether overlays or additional singers, provide the greatest variations here and from track to track. It’s not a matter of her strengths lying in individual components, but rather seems to be that she chooses to keep things simple.
Album standout 'To the Fight' is a perfect culmination of all of Doss’s strengths; in one song, she successfully marries her strong piano leads, the rhythmic jocularity of her guitars, creeping drum beats and half-hidden vocal harmonies. What’s more, it demonstrates how very capable she is at building a suspense and drama in her music that she seems to intentionally shy away from.
If Doss has any shortcoming, it’s that she sometimes plays it too safe. She is skilful enough in her compositions and has enough of a sense of proportion that she could distinguish herself beyond her vivid lyrics and piano arrangements. She has shown what she can do. Now it’s just a matter of her not selling herself short.
- Mechanical Bride - Living with Ants
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