“This is nothing like my home.”
So begins ‘Eleanor’, the woman traipsing through track three of To The Dark Tower like someone attempting to follow the transgression of her wispy thoughts while she passes neon-clad shops, her steps keeping rhythm. She may not be conventionally commercial but Cake Bake Betty creator Lindsay Powell has found her home among the family of indie artists who lull and jab an audience ready for novel piano ballads. Welcome, Lindsay, to a generation of music that adheres to the macrobiotic diet of postmodernism.
To The Dark Tower is a strong follow-up to 2006′s cannibalism-inspired Songs About Teeth, taking us further into attention deficit territory aboard Powell’s runaway mine train of beautifully disordered thought. This New Jersey girl, who paints her face with blues and streaks of brown, certainly knows what she’s doing when she presses her keys into enjambment. ‘Fire’, the canon of woe, runs its lines like watercolours, while ’1916′ exemplifies Cake Bake Betty’s talent for speedily communicating words within the boundaries of meter. An average of four syllables press themselves between the halting chords until she slows her dialogue to foreshadow upheaval: “My salty fingers run across the cupboard / drenching it with skin / rare descendants of the faithless / we build the truth in meaningless machines.”
Is it possible, then, that some of To The Dark Tower‘s truths are lost because of Cake Bake Betty’s fluid style? Powell holds her minor notes abnormally long, then hangs them on a rafter, so she gives an impression of holding one’s breath and losing mind control. Oh right. She’s also saying something. As distracting as her fluidity can be, her words are best if listened to a fourth time. Stream-of-consciousness is a postmodern literary tactic that finds buoyant refuge in our best musicians today. Regina Spektor, to whom Powell has been compared because of her italicised, accented piano and wounded pronunciation of vowels, plays with the same tempos. Think, also, on Ben Kweller’s own sticky style of making the words keep up with their corresponding beats. These artists personify the modern day memoirist’s unbroken chain of thought, and Cake Bake Betty justifies this seeming randomness with appropriate tunes. The distinction between Powell’s more sombre chords, such as those on ‘Fire’, and the jittery seduction of ‘Married Gal’ defines the chapters of the album.
And what would a frenzy like Powell do without mythical metaphor? ‘Gigantomachy’ (which means the struggle between the gods and the giants) shows that we can always depend on Cake Bake Betty for mutilated religious symbolism: “Found yourself a serpent this time / flames are spinning sore from his tongue and his eyes / lusting for the fruits we have tried.” In brilliant contrast to those musicians (too many!) who are revitalising the Western novel’s quick-pitch mentality, Powell capitalises on her soliloquies of contemporary American Romanticism with proper piano accompaniment and high-pitched harmonies. Cake Bake Betty sets the audience straight, from the beginning, about what is and what is not true about a singular thought. In Powell’s world, a single thought, even a bizarre fleeting image like gods fighting titans, is worthy of its own track.
[Infinity Cat; June 5, 2008]
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