Wednesday, January 15, 2014

Pop Matters | Music In Spotlight : 'Dark Days, Luminous Nights: An Interview with Vanessa Daou' — By Imran Khan

By Imran Khan

Vanessa Daou assumed her place on the dance music throne during the height of the cresting electronica scene in the 90’s rather reluctantly. The New Yorker’s music was never destined to be a staple of radio and, moreover, it required listeners to do two things at once: dance and think—two functions that don’t necessarily jibe well on a dance floor. Her heady brew of electronic beats and poetic implorations have both fascinated and mystified listeners alike; aiming at both the head and the feet, Daou’s music has never sought to be accepted as a genre defined by a playlist or the same marketing ploys used to sell lingerie. Instead, the singer spent her time and resources wisely, mining the library for books to feed and supplement her musical diet. Take Zipless (1995), her first solo outing into lounge-hopping culture, where she would spark the curiosity and desire of both the literati and club-goers. Zipless, her proper debut, was the congealed lava of still heated emotions, cooling slowly over the bedrock of smooth, percolating beats. The sonic dressing, courtesy of producer and then-husband Peter Daou, furnished the music with the sweaty, carnal atmosphere of two lovers locked in an overheated sauna and deliriously happy about it. At the core was Daou’s voice, a haunting, diaphanous whisper that divulged only the most clandestine secrets in the listener’s ear. Zipless was so over-the-top in its impassioned femininity and, yet, so understated in its approach and intent that you might have missed what was the album’s most sensual cue: Erica Jong’s erotic poetry, of which Daou’s lyrics were based upon. Her association with Jong alone made Daou the talk feminist circles amidst the album’s release; meanwhile, her tracks were doing time in the swankiest of underground cells, giving DJs a run for their wax and honey.

After the liquid fire of Zipless, Daou tuned into a lower frequency of sex, started reading again and discovered the lives of her muses on 1996’s Slow to Burn, a night out on the town in the lonelier corners of the heart. Bluer than Zipless but not as overheated with sexual magma, Slow to Burn showed listeners the right way a woman unwound for the evening hours—without a man and certainly without worry for it. Strange and fey feelings permeated the album and Daou, lost in the fog of deep regret and loneliness, ultimately essayed the personal triumphs of no longer being at the mercy and whim of a desired man. Her closing line on the album, “I’ll cross that bridge to you”, embodied the wisdom and spirit of a young woman finally learning the difference between simply having choices and actually making them.

After negotiating out of her major-label contract with MCA records following an internal shift of major players and talents, Daou opted to record independently and out of the ethers came the sex-in-space odyssey Plutonium Glow, released in 1997. A wondrous fusion of retro-electro beats, orbiting keyboard licks and dizzying sexploits, Glow took some of its inspiration from Antoine de Saint-Exupéry’s Le Petit Prince and fancied Daou a traveler through an emotional galaxy lined with debutantes, soldiers, lovers and hustlers. Transmitting from some strange universe of grandiose desires, the singer communicated all the pleasures and grievances of love in the long stretches of electronic reverb hovering in the mix.

Read full review @ PopMatters

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