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Queen of the Meadow

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Album Review

The always-alluring Jennifer Charles is the focal point of Elysian Fields, and her aching purr goes a long way in making the band as enticing as it is. But it is not so clear-cut as to who is the architect of their sound, because beneath that fantastic voice on a song such as "Bayonne," Oren Bloedow's arrangement, as minimalistic as the song seems to be, turns out to be the Venus flytrap of the tune. With just some stoned, lackadaisical drumming and droopy-eyed Rhodes piano falling like raindrops, the song subtly makes some rather radical shifts and chord progressions. The listener doesn't even realize they've been caught in the musical web until Charles comes along to devour them, but it is the music that actually does the snagging. So it goes for the entirety of the duo's second album (and first on Jetset following a split with former label Radioactive, who refused to release a previous album they had recorded with producer Steve Albini), Queen of the Meadow, a deliciously mesmerizing and irresistible opus that is a perfect confluence of sly and furtive (but very much narrative) musical backdrops and lusty insinuation.

Part of the duo's secret is that they change things up both stylistically and temperamentally while maintaining that certain smoke-filled tension via Charles' singing. Instead of giving you a long, slow cigarette drag for 11 straight songs, they mix up tempo and mood: slinkily rocking on "Bend Your Mind" or gently swinging as on the titillating "Tides of the Moon," then turning it way down on the nearly comatose old-world lament, "Barely Recognize," then bouncing back yet again with the stunning "Friday Night," which adds a little anguish to a little spice until the song pulls itself up out of its torpor and turns into playfully cutting jazz. Bloedow's boyhood heroes were Brian Wilson and Kurt Weill, and as odd as that pair seems on paper, they are both very much present in the arrangements; they turn out to be an exquisite match, especially on "Dream Within a Dream." Dribbling Wilson-esque piano chords over queasy orchestration, the song is theatrical and playful, but also self-consciously pensive. The best songs, though, strip the music down to just the barest essentials, as on "Black Acres." Cloaked in stark, noir hues, the song is part woeful Italian ballad and part torch song, with Charles' voice playing innocent while her words play the game of temptation. Queen of the Meadow is not necessarily visionary — Tom Waits and Mazzy Star, to name two artists that have been referenced in regard to Elysian Fields, have explored similar territory — but it is a scintillating, self-contained work nonetheless, both poetic and wonderfully profane, artistic but not necessarily arty, and full of fabulous songs.


Genre: Alternative

Years Active:

With their self-titled debut EP, Elysian Fields offered a sort of noir rock, the sedate chanteuse vocals of Jennifer Charles quickly conjuring ballpark comparisons to Margot Timmons (Cowboy Junkies) and Hope Sandoval (Mazzy Star). The music is neither as mainstream as Cowboy Junkies nor as doom-obsessed as Mazzy Star, with cameos by noted New York downtown music mavens John Lurie and Marc Ribot. The band's sophomore album Bleed Your Cedar was produced by Steve Albini, but during this time the band's...
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Queen of the Meadow, Elysian Fields
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