The High Notes
Shara Worden has a thing for stars and love, though these fetishes surpass any idea of a naive adolescent. Rather, the frontwoman of My Brightest Diamond says the themes came from an emotional reaction she had to an Anselm Kiefer art exhibit called Heaven and Earth, which she experienced at the Fort Worth Museum in Texas. Kiefer’s paintings focused on constellations and ladders, a symbol he used as a metaphor for man’s desire to reach the divine.
That theme comes through in A Thousand Shark’s Teeth, My Brightest Diamond’s sophomore release on which Worden is vocalist, producer and arranger. The album consists of 20 musicians and a wide range of instrumental sounds, ranging from the gentle plucking of a guitar to the screech of a horn, from smooth violin to deep, sad bass.
“Over time I felt ‘Oh, I really want to add marimba on this or I want to add French horn here and a little drum and bass here,’ and it really started getting out of hand,” explains Worden. “In order to make it flow better, we pretty much started from scratch.”
Only two songs remain from her first take of the album—“Black & Costaud” and “Goodbye Forever”—which kept the original recording of the string quartet Worden worked with.
In “Black & Costaud,” the lyrics are taken from a Maurice Ravel opera and Worden’s voice echoes as if in a cave before mixing with the sultry wail of the violin and piano. The song continues to ebb and flow between the two instruments and, like the meaning of the French word “costaud,” the beat remains “sturdy” throughout the song as Worden sings in French, her voice matching the cry of the violin.
Most of the songs on the new album are lyrically simple with epic instrumental melodies as was the case on her first album, Bring Me the Workhorse. The main difference is Worden’s blues and classical influence heard throughout the music.
“The Bass Player,” with its seductive quality highlighted by the vibraphone and low horns, is a good example of her new bluesy style. The bass is slowly strummed at first, then Worden’s voice emerges as if her mind has wandered to thoughts of the bass player and the reason the music exists is because she’s remembered him. A slow violin comes in, and mixed with the bass and her voice, it becomes a welding of the music and herself.
Her song “Pluto’s Moon” also has a hint of the blues and sounds melancholy as it speaks of loss. “I tried to catch you once, you ran ahead of me,” Worden sings while what sounds like a harp is gingerly plucked. “You were so beautiful, I thought you’d last forever. But you came and you went.” Then, easing the tension, violin melodies bubble up in a hypnotic beat.
Pigeonholing the group into a genre is difficult—luckily it is unnecessary. A Thousand Shark’s Teeth is a mellow and ethereal-sounding mix of other artists that resist categorization: Antony and the Johnsons, CocoRosie, Rio en Medio and Portishead.
The whole album teeters on the feeling of otherworldliness that’s elicited by a mixture of Worden’s carefully composed music and her opera-trained voice. Worden’s vocal style at times compares easily to the smooth sound of Antony Hegarty, the piercing and distinctive shrieks of Bjork and the throaty and raw singing style of PJ Harvey.
Ultimately the ensemble can be described in one word: dreamy.
The first song on the album, “Inside a Boy,” begins with Worden’s voice as the only instrument, sounding the way one would feel when waking early in the morning alone and wanting comfort. Then the bass kicks in heavy and fast, reaching a climax as her singing turns into an operatic crow: “We are stars colliding, crashed like lightning into love!”
The album also carries over the childhood memory theme from her last album. This is heard in the mellow strumming notes of “Apples,” in which Worden sings about picking apples at her grandfather’s house. “Apples” works as a companion to the Bring Me the Workhorse song, “Dragonfly.”
My Brightest Diamond is Worden’s main musical project, but she has collaborated with Sufjan Stevens, Jedi Mind Trick and The Clogs—a side project of Padma Newsome from The National.
Worden’s talent with melodies is not surprising. Her father is a national accordion champion and her mother is a pianist. She has been surrounded by music throughout her life and started singing when she was 3 years old; she was inspired while listening to Top-40 radio and playing Michael Jackson and Joan Jett records. Now she’s influenced by artists like Tricky, Tom Waits and French filmmaker Jean-Pierre Jeunet.
A Thousand Shark’s Teeth is like a Jeunet film: dark and beautiful and then strange and mysterious. Each song is a gem of it’s own.
My Brightest Diamond at Other Music, 15 E. 4th St. (at Lafayette), 212-477-8150; 8, free (also at Gramercy Theatre June 17).
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