Monday, March 24, 2008

Crystal chandeliers in the ceiling

and holes in the bloody floor

Kate Nash
Made of Bricks
Score: 4

Kate Nash, a 20-year-old British singer-songwriter, projects that she's an ordinary girl fascinated by the world. Her small world, that is.

She frets about boys. She analyzes herself. She watches "CSI." No detail is too insignificant, no anecdote too inconsequential to mention. In "Mouthwash," she feels obligated to tell us, "I use mouthwash / Sometimes I floss / I've got a family / And I drink cups of tea." She's obviously self-absorbed.

Is the average British girl-next-door type self-absorbed? Maybe. But the trivialities of Nash's life are a lot more interesting to her than to, probably, anybody else. "We Get On" shares a pulled-from-a-diary account of how she used to swallow her tongue around this guy because he was so amazing, and how she shook his hand once and how she felt a spark but she couldn't ask him for his phone number and then she saw him at a party but he was kissing this other girl and so she cried and got drunk and cried some more.

"We Get On" tells a common enough tale (she's common, remember?), and it displays Nash's main stylistic traits. Her vocals lie somewhere between Feist's warbling and Lily Allen's speak-singing, and she frequently ramps up her speech or slows it down, either cramming in more verses than the tempo would dictate or stretching out each note. Usually, there's no thematic reason for this, so it just comes off as capricious. ("We Get On," despite its shortcomings, is one of the few instances that her delivery complements the subject matter.) The accompaniment tends to be a chipper piano loop joined by live and programmed instruments. Many sound keyboard-produced, giving Made of Bricks a made-in-your-bedroom quality even though the production is anything but lo-fi.

Along with this, the album often feels juvenile and self-indulgent, due in large part to Nash's choice of words and lack of restraint. In "Mariella," she rattles off her faults, starting with "I'm heavy-handed, to say the least." When she follows that with "I'm far too loud," she yells "loud," unintentionally making the first of her criticisms ring true. Later, when the song's piano plod turns to a jig, she mimics the chant of Mariella, a girl who glued her lips together: "Yeah, I'm neva-eva-eva-eva-eva-eva-eva-
eva-eva-eva-eva-eva-eva / Yeah, I'm neva-eva-eva-eva-eva-
eva-eva-eva-eva-eva-eva-eva-eva / Yeah, I'm neva-eva-eva-
eva-eva-eva-eva-eva-eva-eva-eva-eva-eva / Gonna unglue my lips from bein' together." And on the chant goes.

Nash also seems delighted to pepper her speech with unnecessary vulgarities, as though she's just learned to curse and is eager for a reaction. Even if all you did was scan the song titles on Made of Bricks, you might get that impression. The chorus of "Dickhead" is as follows: "Why you bein' a dickhead for? / Stop bein' a dickhead / Why you bein' a dickhead for? / You're just fuckin' up situations."

When Nash chooses to express herself in more grown-up ways, she succeeds in creating some worthy pop songs. "Foundations," about the ways she and her beau pick at each other, glistens as it piles acoustic and electric guitar atop handclaps, piano and a metronome. "Pumpkin Soup" hits a sweet spot, with a big hook abetted by smartly sampled beats and horn blares. "Merry Happy," while a bit longer than it needs to be, packs an enjoyable da-doot-do chorus. And the violin-accented "Nicest Thing" unfurls a disarming honesty when, after describing nearly a dozen wishes relating to a crush, Nash says, "Basically ... I wish that you loved me."

Still, all those songs but "Merry Happy" were co-written, whereas Nash wrote the rest of Made of Bricks herself. If we can assume this isn't a coincidence, then she would benefit greatly from more time collaborating and less time working solo. Why watch "CSI" alone?

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