Review: Christina Carter – Original Darkness

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Label: Kranky

Released: October 27, 2008

The first time I listened to Original Darkness, I wondered what in the world I’d write about it.

Now that I’ve listened to the CD a half-dozen times, I wonder how I can possibly say everything I want to say within the confines of a record review. My notes alone are nearly 600 words, and they don’t possess any of the flowery adjectives and thrilling verbs with which I mask my mediocre writing.

So I’ll try to keep it basic. This is tough music even for me, and I like tough music. Original Darkness is full of very simple musical passages — folky guitar chords, angular melodies, troubled vocals — that aren’t very interesting on their own, but Carter layers them together in counter-intuitive and unnatural ways. Mildly pretty components meld to become an ominous and anxious whole.

The end result sounds how depression feels.

No, it doesn’t sound like The Smiths, or Belle & Sebastian, or whatever stupid emo band is hip this week. Those groups sound like confusion or sadness or anger. Original Darkness sounds like clinical depression, a state where everything — the good and the bad, the soothing and the stressful, the light and the dark — is inseparably mixed together. You can listen to Carter’s music and intellectually say, “Wow, the vocal melody and guitar chords are kind of simple and pretty,” but you cannot pull the prettiness from the pain that surrounds it. It’s like being able to see the beauty of a sunrise or feel the tenderness of a lover’s kiss, but lacking the ability to separate it from the destructive thoughts that cycle through your mind.

The CD is far from perfect. By the end of the disc, it sounds as if Carter is running short of ideas. Although her voice is reminiscent of Beth Gibbons or Jesse Sykes, at times she sings with an in-your-face earnestness that conjures the most overwrought and downright awful folksingers from the late ’60s and early ’70s. The title track reminds me of the way Nina Simone tried to convey dramatic emotion at the end of “Four Women,” but instead just sounded kind of silly. There are more than a few moments on Original Darkness where Carter’s emotion just sounds kind of silly. To her credit, though, she never resorts to Yoko Ono-esque wailing, a clich&eacute that would make the record unbearable.

Lots of musicians can do simple feelings: Carter’s greatest artistic accomplishment might be that her music embodies a mental disorder. If you’re not afraid of rough edges and dark corners, this is a CD that I’d highly recommend. It likely won’t become a part of your daily listening, but it will hang around the dark places of your mind for a very long time.

Satriani: 4/10
Zappa: 9/10
Dylan: 7/10
Aretha: 8/10
Overall: 8/10



If you’re curious about my rating categories, read the description.

About bobvinyl

bobvinyl, writer and co-editor of No Song is an Island, founded its predecessor, Rock and Roll and Meandering Nonsense (whose archives are found here), in 2005 and served as editor and principal contributor until it went on hiatus in 2010. He has also been published in AMP and Loud Fast Rules! (in print) as well as Glide and FensePost on the web. He has been an avid record collector since he was seven years old and enjoys sharing his love of music from the common to the esoteric.

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