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Helene Greenwood is Exquisite

Picture of Helene Greenwood

Helene Greenwood

“The Real and Unreal blur into me”

Exquisitely Hopeless is a photo negative, sitting in the infrared dark room of a film purist, who might be a character in a Haruki Murakami novel, reading 1Q84, and he’s really starting to freak out.

Picture of Helene Greenwood

Helene Greenwood

That metaphor is the best way to describe the ellipses of this album. The sounds are very explicitly evocative of singer-songwriter Julia Holter in instrumental selections and compositional strategies. Helene Greenwood’s vocals carry that lush-mezzo lilt that drips like burning glissando glass over vibrant string arrangements and thick jazz double bass. I was almost turned off by the similarities to that sound.

But, contrary to the opening track “This is the news today” which could be off Holter’s Have you in My Wilderness, the rest of this album is a unique, compelling and unnervingly circular experience, and it excites all my love of paradox in the most alarming ways. I feel like the songs are themselves the shadow images of the songs I’m meant to hear. The instrumentation, despite the baroque-pop and electronic ambience, feels like it isn’t there. Greenwood is pulled rack focus by this sense of unreality. Her vocals stretch across the album that, while a respectable 45–50 minutes long, feels over an hour. From the low-key drumming, bass and strings on “Dream Horses” to the musique concrete cavalcade on “Madame Marina,” the album moves at a pace contrary to reality and feels like another’s shadow.

That’s not bad, but it is jarring, and, within the context of this album, perfect.

The lyrics are like broken mirror fragments—each a shard reflecting a picture, but dreamlike and incomplete.

There is a famous metaphor by Plato that states that reality is merely a shadow on a cave wall, and we’re all reflections of that true reality. The lyrics, which fluidly meander, are like broken mirror fragments—each a shard reflecting a picture, but dreamlike and incomplete. It is art rock in the most formal sense of the term, so intensely subconscious, musically suggestive rather than literal, and creating a powerful feeling of unreal. It gives Greenwood’s boast at the opening of the album—and the characters she evokes—a sense of legitimacy.

The ability to blend the unreal and real by being both earns my respect, but ultimately this is not my favorite album. The comparisons I make to Julia Holter are not always in this album’s best interest. Furthermore, this album is a cerebral experience, as opposed to a purely physical one. It lingers in your head, and the music tastes so rich, but the compositions sometimes buckle under their own weight. More to the point, this album can awaken something akin to existential terror when elements that aren’t there, overwhelm the things that are. I’m half convinced that Tengo Kawana from 1Q84 is reading this review, waiting for Aomame in the cat-town after listening to this album. That’s not always welcome.

Listening to the negative image of an album that doesn’t exist, well, you don’t hear one of those every day, do you?

Until I ride on dream horses.

7,888 out of 10,000 Rawckus Kung-foo throwing stars.