Tuesday, June 7, 2011

Paula Frazer's hauntings

Paula Frazer
A Place Where I Know – 4-Track Songs 1992-2003

Recorded alone on an analog deck with some guitars, sundry sound implements and a voice that’s seen it all twice, this Paula Frazer compilation is like a dry run-through of Kubler-Ross’s five stages of grief experienced from a very slight distance. Featuring songs that first saw dark of night under Frazer’s ex band, Tarnation (and ones that didn’t), it turns out that lurking beneath the accused neo-traditionalist/country/whatever singer is a furtive but superb diarist.

Not having any other humans present improves every version here, as she isn’t freighted with the weight of genre expectations or the glare of an engineer through a recording booth glass. Both soothing and scary, a better title might be Ambient Chill-outs for Hauntings.

Or, to pick up Frazer’s own career-long Southern Gothic implication and stumble with it, everything here is wrought in autumnal tones. Her voice shifts ghost-like from scotch-raw low to double-tracked girly. Structures are sometimes loose, often concise, always deadpan achey. Her twelve tales of lost love and just plain loss employ a weirdly proper folksy syntax, like a poetic cop reading a post mortem. The burned out sadness from one song bleeds into another.

This CD is defined by a steady-state elusiveness: the more you listen, the less you remember later. One returns to the disc, and ends up floating off on sonic and emotional tangents—-on the trail of a blue echo, wondering what a sentence meant, inspecting an overdubbed harmony for...what? Then another song drifts in, another set of gossamer conundrums, tricky, gorgeous, wonderful evidence of the infinite payback of self-set technological limitations.

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