Indie folk singer Mariee Sioux has come out with her sophomore effort, Gift For The End, just released in the U.S. on April 17, 2012 on Whale Watch Records. This album marks a definitive shift into an increasingly complex yet subtle patchwork of songs that call for patience and careful listening.
Sioux’s 2007 release Faces in the Rocks, acquired her spots touring in support of and alongside fellow new folk aces Joanna Newsom, Alela Diane, Hope Sandoval (Mazzy Star), Michael Hurley, Marissa Nadler, and coveted performances at Bumbershoot and Brooklyn’s Northside Festival. After such an extensive touring schedule Sioux stayed close to home and focused on recording Gift for the End during the summer of 2011 at Placerville’s Monsoon Studios and Nevada City’s Sun Dial Studios.
What transpired was a concentration of eight elongated tracks (four-to-six minutes each) characterized by clear stylistic finger-picking guitar and graceful, airy vocals. These are the common denominators on the album and are instantly recognizable in the curiously warm opening track “Homeopathic.”
While the vocals themselves are delicate and hard to resist, lyrically they often feel like poetic trails sauntering off with no destination. While intriguing, it felt difficult to navigate the personal and natural narratives throughout a good portion of the album. Ultimately, leaving me lost in a twisty lyrical forest fending for myself and picking out leftover buzzwords: insects, snakes, creeks, water, fog, ravens, etc., and trying to make sense of their connection. The main exception however, is “Ghosts In My Heart.” This song is a memorable track geared in the direction of sunset psych folk. Trickling piano, counter-balancing male vocal harmonies and soulful sighs provided pleasant contrast against Sioux’s breathy expressions. An electric guitar solo also revitalized the spirit of the song. That coupled with concise repetition and comprehensible lyrics gripped this one to my memory. “Swimming Through Stone” also proved an exception, beautifully showcasing some psychedelic quirk. The stream of consciousness lyrical descriptions of genuine and wild imagery were well executed with Sioux’s femme and melodic vocals.
With a close listen, one can begin to grasp the nuances and subtleties of the layers of harmonies, percussion, flute, synths and guitar but they’re tough to pick out as they often lie low in the mix. The vocals tend to outshine the instrumentation, leaving an awkward imbalance for the listener to fend with or for those listening at a glance, leaving them easily bored and un-invested. Overall, while her voice rings out pure, the mix and the lyrical confusion leave me distracted and unsatisfied. Best to start it off as background music, let it seep and marinate, and decide if this grower of an album grows on you.
Review by Emily Saex