Issue 12  •  Spring 2013

Pepi Ginsberg: Red

Written by Niina Pollari
At first, you might not know how to classify Pepi Ginsberg’s new album Red—I sure didn’t. But something I did notice was the uncanny feeling that confronted me when I listened—I mean when I really cranked it up and listened—that I was hearing something eerily familiar. After a few plays, I figured out that this sensation comes from the album’s intensely vintage sound. Even Ginsberg’s vocal style evokes some iconic voices ranging from Patti Smith’s wails, a comparison I think she hears a lot, all the way to the nonchalant croon of Jim Morrison—this one may sound strange, but you’ll hear exactly what I mean if you listen. Ginsberg’s voice combines with the somewhat Doors-esque organ bursts on “The Contortionist,” melancholy horns on “In My Bones,” and overall bluesy riffing to make Red a well-crafted anachronism. It sounds almost out of place in the now; however, if you remove the current pop world from your frame of mind, Red is a delight in influence and design. It’s layered, but not bogged down with sound—its most frequent voices are the guitar and the piano—and its overall design is straightforward. And actually, given that one of the biggest trends in recent music is all about stripping down the sound and bringing in the old, it isn’t really tough to get in the right mindset for this album.
At first, you might not know how to classify Pepi Ginsberg’s new album Red —I sure didn’t. But something I did notice was the uncanny feeling that confronted me when I listened—I mean when I really cranked it up and listened—that I was hearing something eerily familiar. After a few plays, I figured out that this sensation comes from the album’s intensely vintage sound. Even Ginsberg’s vocal style evokes some iconic voices ranging from Patti Smith’s wails, a comparison I think she hears a lot, all the way to the nonchalant croon of Jim Morrison—this one may sound strange, but you’ll hear exactly what I mean if you listen. Ginsberg’s voice combines with the somewhat Doors-esque organ bursts on “The Contortionist,” melancholy horns on “In My Bones,” and overall bluesy riffing to make Red a well-crafted anachronism. It sounds almost out of place in the now; however, if you remove the current pop world from your frame of mind, Red is a delight in influence and design. It’s layered, but not bogged down with sound—its most frequent voices are the guitar and the piano—and its overall design is straightforward. And actually, given that one of the biggest trends in recent music is all about stripping down the sound and bringing in the old, it isn’t really tough to get in the right mindset for this album.

But Red’s vintage sound isn’t surprising when you consider one of its main players, aside from Ginsberg herself, who is definitely in control here. Scott McMicken, of Dr. Dog fame, who, according to the mythos known as the label’s bio sheet, left a note in a bottle at the door of Ginsberg’s apartment when he wanted to collaborate with her on a song. I really like this story, and I imagine I can tell what drew McMicken to want to play with Ginsberg. Dr. Dog’s 2007 album, We All Belong, has a distinctly 1970s Beatles vibe, and a couple of tracks on Red certainly don’t shun a Beatles comparison as well.

Now, the workings of the actual album. Red definitely takes a while to grow on a listener, and here’s why. First, I don’t believe that the opener, “Son” is the easiest path into the album for several reasons, one being the starkness of the intro, which, with its muted acoustic and slide guitars, makes the vocals seem extremely raw and up-front; two, it’s also the longest of the album’s ten tracks. However, “Son” does pick up in the final few minutes, and makes a smooth transition into “The Waterline,” a steadily rollicking jam which features a Lou Reed-channeling-Ginsberg talk-singing her way past the verse’s maritime backup vocals and sailing right into a pretty catchy chorus. Another highlight for me is the vaguely apocalyptic “Wind or Degree,” which sounds like it should be playing in a Western or a Quentin Tarantino flick. “In My Bones” also has a gorgeous trumpet-and-strings instrumental fill, which makes me want the presence of these instruments on the rest of the track.

Alas, there were a couple of tracks that did not grow on me. Ginsberg’s voice is a big presence, so it works best on faster-paced songs; on slower tracks like “Lately” and even the introduction to “Son,” it tends to veer out of control and its range may be a bit too bluesy for its surroundings. Still, Red is well played overall and grew on me in the long run. Bottom line is it’s an album I could see myself putting on the record player at small to medium conversation-driven gatherings of fairly hip friends, between, say, the Rolling Stones’ Sticky Fingers and the Gore Gore Girls’ Up All Night.

Share this post