We bipeds are frequently given to falling down flights of stairs and knocking into balusters, finding ourselves at the bottom with a muddled perspective and a throbbing head. But with their third album Gravity & Grace, The Tiny navigate the art of locomotion in a startlingly balanced manner. Cellist Leo Svensson and bassist Johann Barthling rise and descend the steps of instrumental range, while Ellekari Larsson sings in a voice that sounds tickled by a feather. The lyrics are pronounced in that sterling, silvery way that doesn’t come easily to native English speakers – Larsson, a wispy Swede, allows each word a space shot through with sonorous vocals and the precociousness of someone fingering a foreign language. Eleven songs, all a tad enchanted and fluid, fall upon the listener’s ears like autumn rain as Larsson’s voice vibrates lightly, creating ripples of sound.
The majority of the tracks on Gravity & Grace seem, at first, needy in their content. Larsson frequently employs clichés about being retrieved from the “lost & found”, while feelings of inadequacy plague ‘Too Heavy A Burden’, where she thinks herself “not enough, you see”. These songs seem directed at an unyielding, merciless lover, and Larsson is constantly pleading with bent knees, her voice rising from a pure vocal line to a thin, dry growl of sorts. This scratchier, rougher tone develops attitude in ‘Ten Years’, a furious tirade against some male figure who has betrayed and belittled in a relationship that has wasted away the singer’s winters. Later, Larsson manipulates her voice to become annoyed, heavy sarcasm filtering through ‘Lithium’.
Weakness is a theme which seems, momentarily, to overwhelm ‘Never Coming Back’, in which Larsson laments the loss of a man. But, upon a second listen, the song reveals itself to be a rather metaphysical piece; verbs skid around the lyrical sphere with comments on driving, flying, calling out, then suddenly the words create a scenario of death, car crashes and of life lived in between two realms. Of particular interest is ‘The Man Who Ran’, a composition that seems a return to Larsson as a girl, a young, double-braided blonde teen jogging past the landscapes of her childhood, thinking aloud for the benefit of the listeners. She runs and whistles wistfully, wondering aloud “What if gravity is just another trick of the mind?”, as her voice seems to alight upon the atmosphere itself, levitating beyond natural forces and justifying the album’s title.
Gravity & Grace is a beautiful, airy work. Larsson’s voice is flexible in range and raw in a way that’s altogether unseen these days, with a precious, proud self-consciousness that doesn’t shy away from harsh sounds or honest words. The lyrics are interesting and the instrumentation accompanying them hugs Larsson’s inflections with a heartbeat of strings as the icy elegance of the music grants the English a Scandinavian tint. Accordingly, it’s hard to resist the temptation to describe Gravity & Grace with one of Larsson’s own phrases, the music like “a finger on my eyelids as I sleep”. Delicate, dark and deeply personal.
[The Tiny Music; October 14, 2009]