Queens' brainy-sensuous experience is derived
from numerous compositional processes that are somewhat explainable, though
in attempting to offer glimpses, Commag巖e betrays a near-blushing
modesty. "I didn't
have any time constraints, really," she says of her process, "and
I really didn't know what I was really even doing. The band had taken a bit
of a break, and I just thought, I'll just record a bunch of songs, and then
it kept growing and growing. I was, like, Should I put this out?" She
laughs. "It was a very free kind of experience."
Take the song "Overcome." Commag巖e's
multitracked voice, like a heavenly choir, eases into a sweet, simple
melody, as if she's standing back to let the music happen 行 though Cooder's
Bonhamesque drums provide a wholly different texture. She combines this
ease and freedom with a forceful, very personal sense of symmetry, melody
and harmony. The result is a tune that is somehow not just accessible but
like something we've known our entire lives. Initially awash in hovering,
twinkling keyboards, "Your Ghost" ventures, without warning,
crash-boom into urgent synth pulses and whimsical detours through strange
melodic alleys and ravines. Commag巖e's finely articulated voice comes
bursting through, reflecting with compressed passion (as she is wont to do)
on loneliness, existence, time and mortality.
"It's like my fantasy
record," she says. "I was, like, I don't want to have any limits
or worry about anything that anybody is saying. I wanted strings, I wanted
horns, I just wanted to use everything."
Which she does, in artfully crafted
scores that could strike you as mere pleasant slices of heart-rending,
toe-tapping pop were it not for the wildly strewn flying arrows of synths,
guitar and drum parts, which typically clump together, dissolve into foam,
then clump again to punch the air with defiance. "Nature of
Things" builds on a slow, stately intro of brush drums over elegiac
keyboard/organ, acoustic pluck and sundry wisps/strands/shards of
evanescent sound; when the acoustic piano pairs with the lonesome wail of
Ry Cooder's coyote slide guitar, the hair on your neck stands
up. And that Queens'
penultimate track, "Skyscraper," hasn't been declared Song of the
Year at the Grammys or whatever is just wrong. This piece soars, cleanses,
is a case study in perfect pop-song construction, a treatise on form and
color. We're sailing through the clouds: "We're in, we're in,
skyscraper." It's a place you don't want to leave.
The spaciousness of Commag巖e's
arrangements is relaxing but enveloping, an effect achieved mostly through
her own calm charisma but aided by her expert sonic orchestration 行 knowing
just how much to put in and how much to leave out. She achieves this in
part from her background as a student of classical music, jazz and
ethnomusicology at UCLA. Her father, too, is a classical pianist and
producer (and her brother is singer-songwriter Robert Francis; her mother
sang rancheras around
"I've always been a good
student," she says with a laugh. "I was always able to sit down
and study and do my homework, and classical music kind of lends itself well
to that kind of study. You have to have a lot of patience for learning all
that stuff." She laughs again. "This is the first time that I've
actually been able to use what I've learned."
There's more than a hint of the
melancholic in this music. One suspects that Commag巖e was feeling a bit,
um, sensitive during its creation.
"I never really like to talk
about depression," she says with a shrug. "Whenever I feel like I
write from that place, I don't want to talk about it and sound whiny and
self-indulgent 行 that's something other people can do. I've always had
trouble with that." Yet she conquered her resistance. "It's the first
time that I've really written from that place and decided to not care what
it sounded like. I just reached such a low point, for so many reasons. It's
just so hard being an artist, and there're only a few options, and I just
decided to try and keep my head up and write the songs and record them 行 I
thought that would make me feel better."
It's not that Commag巖e's songs on Queens are bummers, by the way. She hits,
consistently, a reflective, cathartic tone that puts the listener in a
meditative place. Commag巖e uses the word patience to describe the process of putting her
songs together, which is partially what's striking about these
compositions. There's a serene persistence involved in their unfolding;
everything is thought out; structurally, and on a purely sonic level, they
drip with invention. That measured pacing of things 行 a "mature"
way of making music 行 gives it a relatively adult feel.
"You know, I love rock &
roll," she says with a chuckle, "and I love when I see other
people just being able to be completely free. But I have to honor what my
strengths are, and that's definitely with my ability to see something
through, think it out, and put it down."