Last week, I blogged about Sons of an Illustrious Father, the Nyack teens who were born on a cargo train rumbling through Mississippi in 1910, and then somehow jumped the rails, and ended up with us today in aught eight. I wasn’t crazy about their new recordings, because of the way the tracks were mixed. In my opinion, the new songs lacked the organic interplay that was so likable in the band’s live recordings from earlier this year.
A few days ago, though, I listened to Sofia Albam’s solo music, which she recorded a few months ago. It’s more or less just her and a guitar, with a few vocal harmonies thrown in for good measure.
Albam, with banjo
I fell for Albam’s evocative, raspy-edged vocals the first time I heard them, and these solo tracks expertly showcase her style. On MySpace, she likens her sound to “a pack of wild animals ripping your throat out, gently.” I’m not sure if that’s exactly accurate, but her songs do have a way of sneaking up on you after a few tracks (quite possibly like a wolf silently tracking a scent, although I’ve never experienced that firsthand). Before you know it, you’re her lost in her rhythmic finger-picking, and world-wise lyrics, all the while, wondering if she’s really only 18-years-old.
Songs like “Bury Me” delve into emotional themes with the cynicism of a weathered bluesman (or woman), and the underlying pain you might hear in a Kurt Cobain song. During “Bury Me,” Albam sings, “There’s something wrong/I must be cursed/I try to get better/but I only get worse,” taking her vocals from a shout to a whisper with each line. Sometimes it’s difficult to discern the lyrics, because she’s singing so loudly or quietly, but the ambiguity is appealing. We could all use more mystery in our Wikipedia-annotated lives.
In the relationship ballad, “Why So Mean,” Albam talks about feeling love and feeling pain, but above all, wanting to feel something.
“Darling, oh darling, why so mean?
You’re the meanest man that I’ve ever seen
Kiss me or bruise me
Love me or lose me
Take me or leave me alone.”
There’s a sincerity in her songwriting that suits the austere tone of her vocals and guitar picking. With her intimate-yet-universal lyrics and musical presentation, she could be Cat Power, who also takes everyday themes of life and love, and infuses them with incorporeal questioning and suggestiveness. Amidst all this pain and heartbreak, Albam also seems to be looking for answers. Is there a reason for sorrow and hurt?
Her answer isn’t overt in any of the lyrics, but perhaps it’s buried in the compositions themselves. It’s not only the music that takes us above the pain, but the moment, the tiny spaces that she’s created. Just listen to the quiet, semi-intentional garnish on the recordings—the singer clearing her throat, or bumping the corner of her guitar against something—and you’ll realize that you’ve been invited to a special place. There’s a beauty in her depiction of failed relationships and agony, and in that beauty, hope.