Jolie Holland - Wine Dark Sea - Albums - Reviews - Soundblab

Jolie Holland - Wine Dark Sea

by Pete Super Rating:10 Release Date:2014-05-19

Jolie Holland has created four records in a row, pushing her brand of folk-blues further and further from the old-timey throwback music found on both Esconida and Catalpa, her first two records. She has injected shades of jazz, indie-rock, and dabbles with the big bass-and-drum of the classic Muscle Shoals sound into her records, in addition to her default folk-blues. Wine Dark Sea introduces a new element to Holland's sonic arsenal: noise.

Just 10 seconds into first track 'On and On', we hear a volume swell from an electric guitar followed by bleeding feedback. Eventually, the track is nearly swallowed whole by an over-driven squealing lead. The next track, 'First Sign of Spring', pulls back and lets piano and cello accentuate things. It's on the third track 'Dark Days' that Holland really shows us something new.

'Dark Days' locks into a chugging blues beat and riff and is then surrounded on all sides by squalls of feedback and frenetic, atonal electric shrapnel. It's also on this song we hear Holland push her voice into a near strained punk wail evocative of PJ Harvey or Kathleen Hanna. The effect is as euphoric as it is menacing.

Holland's music has always benefited from a certain amount of deconstruction and re-assemblage of traditional genres, but on Wine Dark Sea she seems to revel in letting things feel slightly unformed, but it's a trick. What feels at first to be a certain looseness is revealed upon repeat listens to be a calculated effect. Every song brims with what seems like tension, but is actually intensity. Intensity of emotion, intensity of arrangement, intensity of delivery; every choice leads into an unexpected turn. Even the holes or drop-outs hold an intensity and intention.

Holland's vocal delivery employs a similar effect. She's never seething and never losing her cool, but she pushes and bends every phrase, every syllable. Her runs can start in a whisper, turn to a tremolo trill, pitch up to a near falsetto, and then drop into her lowest register, often in the course of a single line.

The album-length battle between melody and dissonance is fully articulated on the final track, 'Waiting for the Sun'. Starting with another Muscle Shoals groove, a soulful vocal and rising saxophone, before being overtaken by noise-guitar and bleating, squealing sax which would make John Zorn proud. The obvious single on Wine Dark Sea, 'Waiting for the Sun' is smartly positioned last, giving the record a jubilant resolution and payoff.

Wine Dark Sea is a rare bird, a record which screams and kicks but is simultaneously achingly beautiful. It's also rare for the fact that it's the sixth record in an artist's catalog and,indeed, her most accomplished effort. Said simply and without hyperbole, it is an absolute masterpiece.

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