I remember the first time I heard Lara Michell; it was part of an anonymous block of tunes on KBOO. I think there were a lot of emo boys on that night, and so she really stood out, like a siren singing in an overwrought ocean. I was pleasantly surprised to discover that she was the guitarist from Carmina Piranha and immediately sought out her debut disc, Tidepool.
Michell's solo work is like a prototype for the Piranha model. There's her trademark guitar style--a bit flamenco, a bit PJ Harvey--almost like demos Michell might bring to her bandmates, existing on a more personal, deceptively skeletal level. Keen ears are rewarded as they begin to discern vocal layers, a background piano, a xylophone--it's not so simple, after all. In fact, there's a complexity to all of Michell's songs that's refreshing. Slightly folk, slightly goth, yet avoiding being obvious.
The song "Into The Dream," off her new record, Somniloquy, is a bit of a nod to Fleetwood Mac (its forward motion not unlike the elephant marching of "Tusk"), but more dangerous. The white noise and guitar distortion she uses is further off the rails than Fleetwood Mac would ever allow. By immediately following this track with "Anchor," she cuts straight to the solitary acoustic line with no pause, and the power of Somniloquy is clear. Michell and producer Nancy Hess tease out a sonic line to pull you wherever the music may go. Just after this quiet, melodic moment, they throw out "Corner," on which Michell bangs on her guitar like she's in My Bloody Valentine, a bully beating up her less aggressive material.
One thing that sets Somniloquy apart from Tidepool is the balance between voice and music. While it maintains the eerie echo that made Tidepool sound like a message from a distant shore, Somniloquy brings Michell's voice farther forward. It's a voice capable of being soft and warm, cold and detached (and on a song like "Strange Encounters," everything at the same time). But don't dismiss this as some Lilith throwback. Somniloquy (roughly, dream songs) isn't built around trends, but tethered to songcraft.
And it's just lovely. How often can you say that anymore?