It is difficult to straddle the line between introspective and self-involved. Unless the self-absorption is being played up for laughs, sort of like the hapless jerkoff narrator of Death on the Installment Plan. But for singer/songwriter types, you either have to have a collection of stories so amazing that no one cares if they can relate to them or be able to make one’s private pain a conduit. There’s also the Michael Gira method of making things so batshit and brutal that frustrated rage becomes a catharsis sideshow, which is a better category for this particular record.
Gutted by Maigin Blank definitely takes a few ideas and pokes them into your brain. Her singing is really quite lovely, but she avoids falling entirely into the “pretty voice saying ugly things.” In fact, this work is strongest during songs like “Pass” and “Competition” – the latter being the best song on the album, in terms of both production and content. When Blank avoids dwelling too much on being an outsider – a theme which dominates “Elementary” and it’s catchy hook – that passion and frustration becomes far more accessible. (This same thrust completely decimates “Loser” despite the excellent opening line: “People like you make serial killers out of people like me.”)
There are bits of odd humor and interludes that help leaven the blunt force trauma, like “Synchronicity,” a sweet abstract piece that barely makes the minute mark. We can all appreciate the attachments that make our lives frustrating while filling them with the only meaning they sometimes seem to have.
The production and recording – done by our friends over at SMT – is super nice with odd touches here and there – the rotted undertow of guitars on “Uneasy,” for example, carries a Gira-like roughness that works well against Blank’s softened vocals. If I were more technically-minded I’d probably be able to point out exactly why, but my dear wife listens to a lot of women who have guitars and sometimes problems and most of what annoys me about the Beth Orton types, for example, is the lousy backing production. And the drum machines programmed by idiots.
But to go back to “Competition,” if only because it’s one of my favorite songs this year by far, I do see the makings of a much bigger star. The production is massive in this short and punchy track, and she matches her vocals to it by flitting around the edges without being overwhelmed. Go check it out on the MySpace page and tell me I’m wrong.