White Hinterland | Phylactery Factory (Dead Oceans)

cd_white-hinter.jpgDienel’s voice, like a bird’s, is often fluttering and flittering about in the highest registers, which is a shame because it masks her lyrics behind the clouds.

 

 

 

 

 

 

There seems to be an emerging trend of conservatory-trained songstresses with a penchant for poetry turning the old, stodgy, high-school honor roll stereotype on its head. As the nebulous genre of indie rock becomes more and more polished, lo-fi amateurism is left behind to spin in its own tape deck spools while professionally refined expressions of artistic grace are quickly becoming de rigueur. Whether it’s the operatic Becky Stark of the winsome indie folk band Lavender Diamond or the eccentric cabaret stylings of Nellie McKay, the up-and-coming whimsical piano folk balladeers are making the old Angry Women with Guitars staple a thing of yesteryear.

Casey Dienel is no exception. Her 2006 solo debut, Wind-Up Canary, drew several comparisons to McKay not only for her flexible, opera-trained voice but also for her strangely endearing method of storytelling and her playfully versatile piano accompaniment. But while Wind-Up Canary was a soft, introspective album, her new album Phylactery Factory with the band White Hinterland opens the field wide open, incorporating glockenspiels, melodicas, mellotrons, violins, and other accoutrements into Dienel’s repertoire. The result is one of the most vibrant and breezy records of the year; traipsing somewhere between the lilting morphine folk of Jolie Holland and the classically-tinged mythology of Joanna Newsom, all while maintaining a steady jazz heartbeat.

"Dreaming of Plum Trees," one of the first songs off this record to make the rounds on the internet, spins an old-fashioned tale of neighborly suspicion, emblazoned with Dienel’s trill delivery and vivid imagery, topped off with the carefree refrain "Someone ought to be ashamed," although clearly that someone isn’t Dienel. The music hustles and bustles forward with rhythmic jazz piano and unexpected bursts of screeching guitars. It’s as if Vashti Bunyan was singing for Vince Guaraldi. Phylactery Factory is flush with jazzy influences, but Dienel shows a deft hand at bringing various musical styles together—from the Eastern European gypsy folk of "Vessels" to the dreamy carnival waltz of "Hometown Hooray" to the hopping, chipper pop of "Lindberghs + Metal Birds."

White Hinterland’s forays into different genres aren’t always successful, as evidenced by the meandering "A Beast Washed Ashore," where droning atmosphere trumps composition and Dienel’s Newsom posturing is a little obvious to dismiss. Dienel’s voice, like a bird’s, is often fluttering and flittering about in the highest registers, which is a shame because it masks her lyrics behind the clouds. While Wind-Up Canary was propelled by largely personal narratives, the White Hinterland cover allows Dienel to explore themes of urban decay and war and martyred lovers with a pre-industrial sense of awe and a recurrent strain of Greek mythology, where Aphrodite visits slain hometown boys in faraway lands.

Casey Dienel may only be 22, but if the level of artistry and vision in Phylactery Factory is any indication, we’ll be hearing from her for some time to come. B | Todd McKenzie

RIYL: Jolie Holland, Joanna Newsom, Vashti Bunyan

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