Album of the Week 1/13: The Garment District - Melody Elder
As a sort of disclaimer beforehand, it should be known that when it comes to having a knowledge of electronic/synth-driven music I am horribly inept. So, while this review may at times fall a little short at times if I painfully resort to comparing the Garment District to a entirely different band such as Soft Cell only because a), they both share a flimsy synth bond and b), it’s the only electronic album I own in my collection, know at least my intentions are good.
That being said, it is truly a sign how good of an album can be when the bare roots of it transcends any and all genres, and at the end of the day enters a realm that anyone can identify with in some way large or small. No matter what, it’s just a really good album. However, an album of that caliber rarely comes across today, but fortunately Jennifer Baron recorded and released just that. Previously a founding member of the Ladybug Transistor, as well as a member of the New Alcindors, Baron’s newest project is her solo studio creation The Garment District, releasing her first album Melody Elder.
While Baron trades the horns of the Albemarle Sound here for a more synth-oriented album, by no means should fans of her previous work feel alienated when listening. In fact, if anything they should feel more at home than ever before. Though this is definitely an “experimental” recording, Baron has in no way abandoned her past influences with the Ladybug Transistor, or even further back with Saturnine, and her acute sense of melody are as strong as ever. In the end, a strong pop strain runs all through these recordings, leading to some incredibly fine melodies such as the album opener ”Only Air;” she’s just accumulated a lot more sounds since.
As often as vocals may appear, they rarely assume the place of the forefront on this album, choosing instead to float in and out at will and playing no greater of a role than the instrumentals themselves. In fact, they often act as no more than instruments themselves; an ingenious idea rarely used today, yet going at least all the way back to the first 78s when singers were only recognized as a “vocal refrain,” before singers like Al Bowlly came to the forefront. Quite simply, there is no hierarchy on this album, leading you, the listener, the hear something entirely new with every listen.
However, when she does in fact choose to showcase vocals and lyrics, as in the case of “Bird or Bat,” or the equally as beautiful “Nature-Nuture” the effect works marvelously and stunningly like the few precious seconds of actual film in the place of photographic stills in Chris Marker’s 1962 short film La jetée. "Bird or Bat" also happens to be one of the greatest songs off of Melody Elder, and may very well be considered the “Sunday Morning,” or pop single, of it, featuring her cousin Lucy on vocals and Jowe Head from the legendary Television Personalties (AND Swell Maps!) on bass.
In a way, the album works much like a soundtrack to a David Lynch film with Angelo Badalemnti, effortlessly blending elements of both the classical and pop worlds, and Baron accomplishes the same exact conveyance as Lynch without a full orchestra at hand but a few wooden instruments, some synths, various friends and family, and an extreme sense of melody. As she said in an interview, the Garment District is only “me, with the occasional help of a few patient family members and friends,” and moments from the alternately beautiful and attacking melody of “Only Air” and the ethereal qualities of the meandering “Supermoon,” to Baron’s own guitar work on “Bird Or Bat Reprise” and the cold final moments of “Push” truly help you cherish this album even more.
I mean, like, I really get what she’s doing. It’s like the occasional use of a drum machine is, like, the use of drum machine by that band from the early 80s, Soft Cell. You know? Yeah… -Cody