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Colleen - Everyone Alive Wants Answers

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Artist: Colleen

Album: Everyone Alive Wants Answers

Label: Leaf

Review date: Feb. 18, 2004

Colleen’s debut full-length, Everyone Alive Wants Answers, is an assembly of subdued, looped-based instrumental compositions created using a computer and samples taken from an indistinguishable array of lo-fi sources. It is difficult to suppress the word “folk,” which pops up and lodges itself once you have taken in enough of the album to gauge its general trajectory. However, compositionally, Colleen’s music does not bare any real resemblance to any particular folk form with respect to structure or melody. The word “folk” enters the picture simply because the textural quality throughout the entire album is wood and strings – dusty plucks and strums mingle with hollow, grainy incidental sounds to form the majority of Colleen’s sonic spectrum.

The opening title track is fantastically alluring, exemplifying the tactile textures that prevail throughout: notes spill from a mandolin, prickly like pine needles under bare feet, defining a melody that is at once inhuman in its phrasing yet entirely non-mechanical. Meanwhile warm chords roll off of a guitar, defining a rhythmic space without right angles. Everyone Alive Wants Answers is, if I may, not minimalist in the sense of grand vision but minimal in a humble and extremely human way. The warmth and charm of Colleen’s music is undeniable. The celeste-like tones of “Babies” are pretty and soothing, floating into a half-formed melody like a nascent lullaby played on a music box. “Goodbye Sunshine” loops reversed tones that slide by viscous and out of synch, arranged into their own logic of another half-formed melody. Unfortunately, no piece that follows lives up to the precedent established with the opening track.

Over the course of 40 minutes of music, the underdeveloped melodies, basic structures and simple loops start to sound like artistic limitations. The loops that are constructed are generally short, two to four bars long, and often sound deliberately overextended in their attempts to fill out a measure. What begins as understatement grows uninteresting and amateurish – the music wants to either settle squarely into the length of the measure or break free of time constraints altogether, yet it does neither. Music by no means demands any display of virtuosity. But Colleen’s methods for fashioning a composition are too few and too unvaried – many of her compositions do not develop at all beyond alternately adding and subtracting half-melodies from a few looped chords. Her sense of atmospheric coherence and vivid texture is strong, and almost carries the album – if Colleen can develop her craftsmanship she might produce truly rewarding results. But despite the several pleasures of her debut, too much is left to be desired.

By Jesse Serrins

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