For an album so steeped in all contrasts great and small, Shara Worden’s latest creation is a constant joy to behold. Where her previous My Brightest Diamond releases have tended to include one or two more meandering selections, All Things Will Unwind flexes and flows with an assertive cohesion, both in terms of its ambition and in the sublime orchestration that graces every track. Spurred by a request to compose some instrumental pieces for New York chamber musicians yMusic, whose co-founder Rob Moose is a long-time My Brightest Diamond cohort, Worden resolved to work with the six-piece ensemble exclusively on All Things Will Unwind, writing and arranging much of the album over an intense two-month period between November 2010 and January 2011. Keeping her primary instrument, the electric guitar, firmly in its case for this project, Worden let her imagination spiral into an even more expansive palette of textures, timbres and rhythmic push-and-pull. And while her decision to go all-acoustic for this album has none of the shock value of, say, PJ Harvey’s stark piano excursions on White Chalk, she sounds no less revitalised and essential as she did.
Thematically, All Things Will Unwind deftly brings cosmic, political and societal ideas into a very personal arena, but the real magic lies in the way in which Worden alchemises these ideas into a sparklingly accessible analysis of what it means to be a member of the hyper-connected human race in 2011, in all its overabundance of information and everyday extremes. There are extremes, too, in Worden’s delivery. The gravitas of her anti-capitalist and social inequality messages is given a playful spin on ‘There’s A Rat’ and ‘High Low Middle’, where she comes out defiantly swinging (in more than one sense) with the memorable opening lines, “When you’re privileged you don’t even know you’re privileged / when you’re not, you know.” Elsewhere, ‘In The Beginning’ and ‘She Does Not Brave The War’ show off Worden’s unwaveringly classy soprano to superior effect, while the closing dedication to her year-old son (‘I Have Never Loved Someone’) sets it in a touchingly understated context, the song’s unabashed sweetness neatly offset by a looped squeaky-toy sample and washes of harmonium.
All Things Will Unwind is at its most intriguing in lead single ‘Be Brave’, which punches above the creeping exoticism and shady dealings of the verses with a searing, unforgettable chorus, and in the curious dialogue of the DM Stith duet/co-write ‘Everything Is In Line’. Beginning with a repeated scale picked out on kalimba, the latter’s lyrical obtuseness is imaginatively soundtracked by snatches of brass, woodwinds, strings and more as the two voices tangle with a growing urgency that ultimately translates into a wonderful extended instrumental finish. yMusic are never less than impressive across the whole of the album, always ready to surprise with an unexpected flourish (the piccolo that trills over the dramatic, clanging backdrop of ‘Ding Dang’; the banjo that snakes its way through ‘There’s A Rat’), cementing Worden’s reputation as an arranger of considerable skill and intuition.
Impeccably sequenced, All Things Will Unwind unlocks its core theme of polarity from the start with the “disagreeable agreeables” and “exhausting inexhaustibles” of standout ‘We Added It Up’. Inspired by a speech by President Obama and exploring the idea of neutrality, it spirals through a litany of quirky contrasts (“If I was charge then you were cash / if I was torch you were the match”) to reach the call-and-response conclusion that “Love binds the world”. It’s not that Worden is afraid to enter into conflict – in ‘Escape Routes’ she embraces it, seeking resolution – she’s simply trying to make sense of the imbalances of everyday life. The world’s a giant mess out there, and it only seems to further unravel with each passing moment. And in approaching this concept sounding more together than ever before, All Things Will Unwind is undoubtedly Worden’s brightest moment to date.
[Asthmatic Kitty; October 10, 2011]
Tagged my brightest diamond