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Carmen Villain

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Album Review

The involvement of Prins Thomas, Serena Maneesh's Emil Nikolaisen, and the largely electronic imprint Smalltown Supersound in a set of songs by a former Vogue model suggests any number of musical directions, yet Carmen Villain's debut Sleeper defies almost any expectations listeners might have. The former single "Lifeissin" recalls the intimate heartache of moody singer/songwriters like Cat Power with its yearning close harmonies, but the trippy interlude midway through whisks it far away from familiar territory — and that is the most straightforward song here. Throughout the rest of Sleeper, Villain delivers what could be called fever dream-pop: these songs take surreal twists and turns as their characters try to escape deep-seated fears, only to run straight into them. Whether it's the sweetly narcotic "Two Towns" or "Made a Shell"'s psych rock, the contrast between Villain's aloof vocals and the wild sonics around her is fascinating, evoking Tender Buttons-era Broadcast or the harrowing beauty of Charlotte Gainsbourg's IRM. Villain is unafraid of taking listeners on very dark trips made all the more disturbing because of her detachment, as on "How Much," where an icy melody belies her murderous words, or on "Dreamo," where the way she takes down everyone in her path ("His name is Billy and he don't believe in magic/Her name is Laura/She's counting all her money") is undeniably compelling. With Thomas and Nikolaisen's help, Villain crafts sounds that are psychedelic in the truest and most expressive sense of the term, heightening her songs' emotional revelations in their shifting layers. "Easy" bangs down the doors of perception, beginning with bitter unease and then unfolding into something more complicated and churning as Villain explores the difference between dreaming and merely sleeping. Later, she does a 180 on "Kingwoman," where resplendent guitars and percussion propel the song into triumphant, tropical psych pop. An exciting debut, Sleeper is a rawer, deeper album than might have been expected, full of music that's more daring and more rewarding than the work of many artists without the baggage attached to Villain's background.


Genre: Electronic

Years Active: '10s

The project of half-Norwegian, half-Mexican singer/songwriter Carmen Hillestad, Carmen Villain makes ethereal yet challenging music that boasts an eclectic array of influences ranging from Sun City Girls and Sonic Youth to Broadcast and This Heat. Also a model who has graced the cover of Vogue, among other assignments, Hillestad penned the lyrics to her songs in years' worth of notebooks, inspired by writers such as Charles Bukowski and Mikhail Bulgakov. Meanwhile, she had also been playing with...
Full Bio
Sleeper, Carmen Villain
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