Lisa Germano: Lullaby for Liquid Pig (Ineffable/iMusic)

Curiously, many of the songs here are fairly brief; it’s almost as if the singer was impatient with her own emotions at times and wanted to capture the “essence” as quickly as possible.

When you’re sick, music sounds different. There’s nothing like unexplained pain and prolonged waiting periods for test results to heighten the existential angst; such things can make an awful lot of music sound, well, awful. Certainly boring and unimportant.

Last year, I had two separate health crises, one that was mostly resolved with medication, the other, more unsettling, requiring numerous tests. This latter situation had me feeling pretty detached and somber last fall, convinced that my days were numbered. During the worst times, in November and December, there wasn’t much music I even cared to listen to. So much of it sounded shallow and trivial, and I just wasn’t in the mood. There was one album I played a lot, though. I was lucky enough to have an advance copy of Lisa Germano’s remarkable new album, Lullaby for Liquid Pig, and the way this album affected me, providing empathy during a terrible time, is something I will never forget. I’m not even going to attempt to write an objective review of this album, because I’m still in awe at the raw emotion Germano has captured on this disc and the depth of her self-expression, both musically and lyrically.

Though it’s a recording that could be meaningful to anyone who has known pain or heartbreak, whether from a relationship, alcoholism, or any other destructive behavior that results in one’s emotional isolation, Lullaby for Liquid Pig struck me like a bolt from the cosmos, an inexplicably personal message. And the message was not, “Cheer up, it’s gonna be okay.” It was more like, “This is really frightening, isn’t it? And you’re having trouble relating to people? I can empathize…” When the pains would come, I’d find myself talking to them, wishing aloud that they would just go away.

On “Dream Glasses Off,” Germano sings, “Death decides/When to open your eyes/Go away/Would you just go away.” Much of the time, my thoughts were muddled, and I couldn’t relate to things other people would say. And I couldn’t appreciate what was still worthwhile in my life. On “Into the Night,” she sings: “Can’t find the thoughts/Can’t find the signs/Everything seems…just as it seems/Just as it seems/Losing the feel/Lost all the feel/Of real things…”

So, I became emotionally involved with this record, that’s the point. But what does it sound like, you ask? Well, that’s one of the most remarkable aspects of the record: it doesn’t sound like any others, actually. These are not verse-chorus songs, and they don’t rock. They are soft, emotional flickers—achingly personal tunes rendered in Germano’s compelling (although sometimes almost shaky) voice and couched in odd, unconventional arrangements often marked by childlike chord progressions on the piano and unsettling background noises. On “Nobody’s Playing,” the opener, Lisa gains the empathy of tortured souls everywhere right off the bat when she sings, “These are your secrets/Hidden inside/Wherever you go/Wherever you hide/Nobody’s playing/Nobody knows/Circles and circles/Places to drown/All that you feel/Is you’re going down.” The music is quite pretty, but there’s a degree of genuine emotion here that is almost unprecedented. The songs sound as if they could collapse into complete despair or undisciplined musical recklessness at any moment, yet remarkably, they don’t. This is the sound of holding on, of wanting to live and get better despite seemingly hopeless circumstances. “Liquid Pig” is a tough tune, capturing the feel of being in a hospital bed, hearing the sound of birds outside, but being unable to escape your present reality. There are plenty of references to alcoholism here and throughout the record, but whether they are literal or metaphorical doesn’t matter. The emotions here are applicable to almost any dark reality.

“Pearls,” “From a Shell” and the title track are potently lovely tracks, with Lisa’s vocals sometimes reduced to an emotive whisper on a single lyric, like something she is confiding to the most intimate of friends. On “Shell,” she sings, “And the earth spins round while the people fall down/And the world stands still/Not a sound not a sound/There is love, there is love to be found/In the worst way in the worst way/In the worst way…” capturing a sense of both despair and continuing hope simultaneously. As for the title track, “Lullaby For Liquid Pig,” I can barely discuss it. Moments like this are rarely captured on record with such emotional force, and the verse where Germano sings, “Without you here/Without your love/The world is just there/It doesn’t move me” is one of the most wrenching statements on heartache that I’ve ever heard. The keyboard Germano is playing on some of these songs sounds like a simple Casio, but the blend of childlike longing and adult despair that these songs contain transcends any one sonic element. Besides, there are lots of them—odd little background hums and drones, different “mixes"—that equate with the inexpressible complexity of hidden emotions. Some stellar musicians help Lisa with these unpredictable arrangements, including Neil Finn, Johnny Marr and former Eels drummer Butch. The production, by Germano along with Joey Waronker and Jamie Candiloro, is transcendent; somehow, the spooked sound manages to reflect every nuance of the emotions being expressed.

Only a couple of songs here would sound somewhat “normal” to the masses: “Candy” and “It’s Party Time” have deceptively upbeat melodies, but the latter is likely a love song to booze (in this case, wine), and the closing lyrics, “It’s party time/You know what I mean/I don’t mean anything/I don’t mean anything,” reveal that self-doubt and despair are still just below the surface of the (relatively) jaunty tune. Curiously, many of the songs here are fairly brief; it’s almost as if the singer was impatient with her own emotions at times and wanted to capture the “essence” as quickly as possible.

Evidently Lisa Germano recorded this album in spurts over the last two years, while working part-time at a bookstore and dealing with some personal difficulties. Her contract with 4AD, where she’d recorded past efforts like Geek the Girl and Slide, had been dropped, and it was a time of intense introspection. But plenty of other artists have gotten introspective and not made music this beautifully poignant. This album is so personal, so in tune with the difficulties of being a sensitive human being, that it ought to be made available in hospitals and therapist’s offices, not just record stores. This isn’t “product.” It’s art, it’s life, it’s reality.

And it’s something very, very special. No moment on any recent record has overwhelmed me as much as the two-minute closing track here, “…to dream.” Over a sweet, timeless melody and simple chords, Germano sings, “Only when it’s real/When it speaks to you/And no one else can hear/Don’t give up your dream/It’s really all you have/And I don’t want to see you die.” For anyone suffering ANY sort of anxiety or fear, these lines require no analysis. For yours truly, with the circumstances of my life recently, the combination of the lyrics and performance here are just devastating.

Lisa Germano’s Lullaby for Liquid Pig is the reason I enjoy writing about music, the reason I never get too cynical or apathetic about the flow of recordings out there, despite the state of the industry. Every now and then, something is released that not only reminds me of all the past times in my life when music has truly moved me, but it makes me newly aware that there are other people who can empathize, regardless of the nature of one’s own problems. When the result is an unforgettable work such as Lullaby, the therapeutic effect is somehow greater than any trip to a doctor. Germano has made a record that belongs with other emotional classics of the past like Neil Young’s Tonight’s the Night, Nick Drake’s Pink Moon, and Big Star’s third album. Even though I don’t know her, I feel like she knows a lot about me, and that’s one of the secrets of great musical art. Lullaby for Liquid Pig has made a difference to me as a listener, a music writer, and on other levels I can’t even explain. I don’t imagine that another record will be released this year that will have a more lasting effect on me.

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