Issue 12  •  Spring 2013

Music: Sister Crayon: Bellow

Written by John Melillo
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“It’s so easy to get distracted . . .” This is the mantra that ends “(In) Reverse,” a standout track on Sacramento-based Sister Crayon’s debut full-length album, Bellow. The song is about the music the singer hears in her head—in reverse—and it’s a nice and self-reflexive moment for this album. Because it is so easy to get distracted in this music: Bellow collects a whole cabinet of human- and machine-made sonic curiosities—twinkles, twitters, bells, splurts, cuts, bangs, echoes, plucks, plonks.

 


“It’s so easy to get distracted . . .” This is the mantra that ends “(In) Reverse,” a standout track on Sacramento-based Sister Crayon’s debut full-length album, Bellow. The song is about the music the singer hears in her head—in reverse—and it’s a nice and self-reflexive moment for this album. Because it is so easy to get distracted in this music: Bellow collects a whole cabinet of human- and machine-made sonic curiosities—twinkles, twitters, bells, splurts, cuts, bangs, echoes, plucks, plonks . . . Constructed by lead singer Terra Lopez, sample maker/sound artist Dani Fernandez, along with Genaro Ulloa (guitars/synths), and Nicholas Suhr (drums), this array of digital and analog sounds is the album’s major highlight. A vast thing by itself, Lopez’s voice moves from airy whisper on the piano-based “Ixchel, The Lady Rainbow” to the gigantic vibrato choruses of songs like “(In) Reverse.”
 

These sounds and Lopez’s voice yearn for a kind of distraction that is not the bothersome distraction of the TV in the other room or any other annoying noise, but rather a joyful kind of distraction that would have us look away from the typical, the set, or the given and indulge in the pleasures that the sounds and voices in our heads create. The album’s songs are less about melody and more about texture and feeling: they ask us to listen differently. This isn’t to say that this is ambient or mood music! But rather that the songs each create a new environment based around Lopez’s reflection on love and community.

 

For instance, the beginning of “Thief-Boxer, Asleep” layers dank, distant noise guitar with waves of reverberating vocals overtop. This introduction sets up a song of remembrance and lost longing: “I waited for you.” But those layers of voice and noise already have given us the song, in a way. Those unworded vocals rising up out of that sea of noise already figure singing as an end in itself, a bellowing against an echoing, vague, and, un-forgotten past. Another very different example would be the surprising beginning of “Souls of Gold:” a clapping anonymous group sings the strain “Why are we too blind to see that our souls are made of gold?” Then drums and a digital tinkle start in. This kind of angular mixing of folk analog and modern digital is reminiscent of other electro-tribal bands like Suckers and MGMT.

 

This moment of communal exultation, however, asks a major question of this album—not about whether our souls are gold or not but rather about the status, the “bellow.” I think of a bellow as coming straight from the bottom of the lungs, a kind of uncontrolled bodily sound. I don’t hear that kind of bellowing on this album. Instead, Lopez’s vocals are always controlled, gorgeously in tune, precise to the point where we’re no longer worried about their precision. This is where Sister Crayon creates something different than its echoed-out musical confreres like Beach House, Panda Bear, and the many imitators of those bands.

 

The background sounds always support Lopez’s voice (and her words); nothing is lost inside a sublime murk but rather every sound remains bright, separate, and golden, like our “souls of gold.” It’s this interest in soul/feeling as a clear golden brightness that makes this music “light” in that musical-metaphorical sense: it doesn’t challenge our ears with confusion and noise but rather asks us to listen to the results in a series of experiments with feeling and sound. We hear this science of sounds as a “distracting” set of data and analysis—experience slowed down and recollected. Just as scientists or children walking along the beach revel in the particularity of the different creatures that wash up, Sister Crayon give us these little revelations over and over.

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