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Christina Rosenvinge - Foreign Land

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Artist: Christina Rosenvinge

Album: Foreign Land

Label: Smells Like

Review date: Jul. 6, 2005

Though her native language is Spanish and her heritage Danish, singer-songwriter Christina Rosenvinge chooses English as the language to grace the mournful atmosphere of her folk-inspired dream pop. Foreign Land, her second full-length album, alludes to the multi-cultural musical background from which her songwriting extends while remaining personal and intimate.

Backed by members of Two Dollar Guitar and an almost invisible Lee Renaldo, Rosenvinge displays an obsessively simple creativity that’s neither flashy nor self-indulgent. She develops her ballads carefully, picking her way through meandering passages in fairly sparse arrangements. Though she’s clearly the cohesive mind behind these arrangements, she avoids centering the attention on herself, giving the songs an even, unhurried quality.

Rosenvinge's arrangements require close attention in order to uncover a complexity that isn't manifest at first glance. The relations between the songs masks as creative naivete, since many of the album's eight songs possess similar tempos and the same or closely related keys. The disc isn’t long enough for the similarities to become monotone, and more importantly, the pervasive structures aren't due to a lack of ideas. The absence of movement in the album’s second song, “36,” is contented, self-reflecting. Urgent loss and paranoia grows throughout the panicked minimalist dirge "German Heart," which couples plucked violin strings and quiet electronic clicks that intensify as Rosenvinge's chanting rises registers. As a whole, the album plays like variations on a musical theme.

Songs like "Dream Room," the first track on the album to switch up the standard arrangement of steady guitar and gentle cymbals, don't revolutionize the ballad structure. Rather, they complement the previous tracks by re-envisioning how the instruments differently interact: the drummer now sans cymbals and heavy on the toms; the acoustic guitar changed for an electric awash with reverb. They rearrange order like the chaos of a dream, random synapses firing across neural pathways: now the stranger is a lover, now the hairbrush is a gun.

Be sure to listen for the oddly conventional duet with Smokey Hormel (Beck, Smokey and Miho) on "Submission" - one part ballad, two parts Broadway love song, the two sound like an indie rock version of an Alan Mencken musical number. Rosenvinge begs "Use me" and "Make something pretty of me" as if the two were one and the same. The sunny tone of the duet belies the tenuously dark domination she desires.

Her pixie-esque crooning in a Scandinavian accent immediately recalls the charismatic French chanteuses of last year's Nouvelle Vague record, or even a stripped-down version of Bjork. When Rosenvinge catches the right wave - not too cutesy or too fey - these songs ride the tension between distant and intimate. Love letters from abroad.

By Joel Calahan

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