Wednesday, December 11, 2013

Light Sweet Crude | Act 1: Hybrid — The Updownsuite review

Light sweet crude, as a liquid, may be the world's most sought after form of energy but Light Sweet Crude…, as an album, relies on another universal version of energy:  love.  If Vanessa Daou's past works have largely been a cerebral exploration of love, lust, sex, and loss, then Light Sweet Crude | Act 1: Hybrid is a physical manifestation of those topics through voice and action.  "Hybrid", contextualized in title, assumes many meanings.  At once, it represents the multi-layered sonic landscape of the album while also representing linguistics acting as a catalyst for emotional reaction though the actions of desire.  Daou is a poet by design and Light Sweet Crude… is her most lyrically ambitious project to date.  The previously mentioned topics may not seem like anything new but Daou’s pro-sex, pro-female slant is refreshingly individualistic.  Emphasizing text as power, Daou effortlessly moves from the simple: Did you get my note/"goodbye" is what I wrote ("Goodbye") to the more ambitiously broad: Use your pen as revenge ("Danger Ahead").

Language continually plays the lead throughout Light Sweet Crude… and at its most consistent, language exists between surrender and salvation.  Daou is a woman who is wildly seduced by a married man ("Love Affair"), protective of her heart’s desires ("Camouflage”"), and vulnerability (“Dream”).  While these all may be characteristics of a damsel in distress, Daou is no weak-hearted woman in love; she’s a self-aware figure who challenges the female archetype.

On "Just for You", even intoxicated, she realizes that her desire is being manipulated by a Lothario – a man who unabashedly seduces women.  Elsewhere, standout tack “Love is War” finds Daou exploring the underbelly of love.  Daou might be alluding to her own divorce(though the split was amicable)  with the lines It"s your voice calls me ‘honey’/Then the lawyers, judge and money/It’s a mass delusion/An end with no conclusion.  However, divorce isn't the central topic of "Love is War"; love, obviously, is on the front line of this battle. Hypothetically, it shows Daou as a defiant female who notes that "Lanchester got it right".  The assumed impression is that Lanchester is Edith Lanchester – a Victorian era feminist who defied society by living with a man. The two remained unmarried and she bore two children out of their scandalous union.  Additionally, she explores the process of a co-dependent relationship in a series of acts as if life were a play ("The Broken Hearted").  As the album concludes, Daou suggests a "Revolution" because "silence is a loaded gun you are tempted to shoot" and "nothing really matters if you don't want to speak from the heart".  The exploration of language is all rather academic but what about the music itself?

Vanessa Daou has always had a strong hand in writing, composing, and arranging her music.  Light Sweet Crude… finds Daou working with a handful of producers who bring a new found depth to the album.  Daou’s signature breathy vocals are still present but exhibit a deeper, more complex range.  The previously mentioned “Love is War” finds Daou's voice as pure and clear as a mountain stream and it runs over a landscape of soft piano, strings, and beats that would make Everything But the Girl proud.  "Chances" flirts with reggae and the opening snare sounds pure and urgent.  "Break Me" confidently steps into Portishead territory and several tracks are wrapped in veils of Massive Attack and Tricky.  Daou's musical history may be steeped in jazz, urban, and down-tempo electronic music but Light Sweet Crude… sounds like Daou has made a full out trip-hop album. 

Each track is richly textured with both warm, organic instrumentation and icy, bass-heavy beats.  The strings (most notably on "Revolution") are dramatic and ever present but without ever being fussy or distracting and they lay over the beats like a warm blanket.  This further explores the concept of "hybrid" as the album marries the warm and the cold, the organic and non-organic, the black and the white.  While the influences are heavy, make no mistake – this is very much a Vanessa Daou album and it happens to be one of her very best.

Light Sweet Crude… may never soundtrack your top down summer drives and it’s unlikely that you will be humming any of the tunes in the shower but the album deserves attention.  Like conversation following a moving cinematic experience, the exploration of feelings in relation to a work of art, or a round table discussion about literature, Light Sweet Crude… invites you to explore and process your own reaction.  While it lacks the pop-minded nature of Make You Love, it’s the most consistent and engaging album of Daou’s since Zipless.  Light Sweet Crude… isn't merely a collection of songs and much like V V Brown’ Samson & Delilah, it's a story that passionately unfolds - a visceral experience that just happens to exist in a world of brilliantly crafted music.

Equally sexy and empowering, Light Sweet Crude: Act 1: Hybrid is a bold step forward for Vanessa Daou and for an independent artist, that’s vital in regards to sustainability.  In her own words: "We live in a time of love and cameras/It's not always the way it was/But we can't go back/I say cheers to that!" 


Download Now:  You really should just get the whole album but if you insist -- "Trouble Comes", "Chances", "Just for You", "Break Me", "The Brunette", "Love is War", and "Revolution"

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