Here it is! The first of my three most anticipated albums of 2009 is here (or at least it will be on 14 September). If you want to know more about Piney Gir, read this post, because there is so much to cover with The Yearling (16 tracks totaling about 50 minutes), that I don’t want to waste space regurgitating old information. So, to begin with, let me say this:
The Yearling is even better than I’d hoped it would be.
This is a far cry from Piney’s first album, Peakahokahoo, but those who, like me, fell in love with her early electronic tinkering, will not be disappointed. Blended alongside folk, twee, and jazz elements are shades of that retro Casio keyboard sound (a PT-20, to be exact). Mostly, this manifests as a sort of undercurrent, riding beneath and propelling forward about a dozen tracks, but in other places, such as “Early Days” (which bears a stylistic resemblance to “Janet Schmanet” from Peakahokahoo), it plays a more prominent role.
The album opens with “Hello Halo”, a sort of slowed down, gypsy-less hot club jazz ditty with guitar and violin supporting the simplest lyrics on the album, and the first of three miniatures that provide some of the most endearing moments on the album. The meat of the album begins with the second track, “Say I’m Sorry”, which also happens to be one of the highlights of the album for me. This is more straightforward C86 than I ever thought Piney Gir could get, right down to the handclaps and jangly guitars (all that’s missing now is the glockenspiel). “Say I’m Sorry” flows right into “Blithe Spirit”, which you may remember from that old entry I mentioned earlier. And whilst, in listening to the two songs in succession, one may be inclined to believe that, whoever this girl is, she must have died of twee fever, the sentiment is still a wee bit creepy. I love it.
A few tracks down the list, comes the next (and my favorite) miniature, “Blixa Bargeld’s Bicycle”, ostensibly about a bicycle for sale. Yes, perhaps it sounds like a simple vocalise and maybe you don’t need a bicycle, but “say you have a toothache / and you need to see a dentist / and you don’t know how to get there. / You could always ride a bike”, and wouldn’t you like to know Mr. Bargeld was selling his before moving to Shanghai? I thought so. The last of these miniatures is the a cappella “199 to Elephant and Castle”, a tiny, textless interlude opening with a bit of bus driverly wisdom and bridging beautifully the gap between “Abelha – Bumblebee” and “Lion (I Am One)”.
Speaking of which, “Lion (I Am One)” is an interesting number and another one of my favorites. With its opening Beat era cool jazz walking bass groove, it sets a chill, stalking tone for the track to come. With the introduction of some extra noise about halfway, this track becomes something akin to a shoegaze version of Audrey Hepburn’s café dance scene from Funny Face. Also of note here, is what could possibly be considered a bit of involuted songwriting: “I walk the forest across the floor / A piney forest / A piney floor”. Lewis Carroll would be so proud. “Oleanna”, which follows, about a man scouring the country searching for the woman of is dreams, is probably one of the more radio-friendly tracks on this record. (Incidentally, it features some fine Spanish diction on Piney’s part.)
The album closes out beautifully with the flute and harp accompanied “Love Is a Lonely Thing” (which reminds me, for no good reason, of Chet Baker’s “Born to Be Blue”), the considerably folksier “Weeping Machine” (one of the darkest Piney Gir songs I know: “I clean my house the best I can / discarding every hair and flake of skin, / so I can start again in a space that’s mine”), and ends on the more lilting, sing-along style of “For the Love of Others”.
Yes, it’s true that I still haven’t heard Piney Gir’s second album, Hold Yer Horses, but somehow, after having listened to The Yearling, I don’t feel so bad about that. Yes, I’d still like to hear it, but this album is so good, I am inclined to believe those who are calling it her masterpiece. It is more focused than Peakahokahoo and consistently entertaining. Having listened to this album eight times already today, I am about to get back in my car, where it is sitting in my CD player, waiting for me and it is likely to stay there for several days. Kristin says the mark of a great album is the inability to pick one favorite song. My favorite track from The Yearling has changed three times over the course of writing this review. It is just that good. It will be out on Hotel Records in the UK starting Monday, 14 September with a US release planned (I think) for some time in October. You owe it to yourself to buy this record and listen to it on repeat until you die.