Lisa Germano is, shall we say, a repeat offender. By which I mean, her records over the past half-decade or so are of the same mood and address similar concerns. Her lyrical themes tend toward the intricacies and betrayals of romance, occasionally glimpsing the brighter side of love (or at least, of resignation), and her songs are bare things, outwardly becalmed but with steeliness at their core. She’s an artist with a relatively small but doggedly insistent fan base, partly to do with her early alliance with the 4AD label (old habits die hard for 4AD fans), though I think ultimately it’s far more to do with the force of her music and her personality.
With Magic Neighbor, Germano unsurprisingly follows through on ideas she’s been developing over her past few albums. If there’s any difference, it’s in what feels like an even greater confidence in the playing and arrangements, and an ability to let her songs breathe, lose their pacing, and wander a little. It’s not aleatory, but on songs like the opening “To The Mighty One,” Germano leaves structures relatively open, in the process recalling other songwriters like Rickie Lee Jones or Jane Siberry – one of the few times I’ve been able to locate a direct analogy for what Germano’s up to. And if Magic Neighbor is hermetic, then it’s in the best way, the gentle unfolding of one person’s quiet, persistent vision.
Magic Neighbor also reminds me how much Germano draws from folk music, but not via any free-folk vogue. If anything, it’s closer to the ecstatic melancholy of traditional Eastern European music. The melodies that run through “A Million Times,” and the off-beam, jaunty chorus of “To The Mighty One” both recall Muszikas or similar traditional folk outfits. Elsewhere, Germano reels tiny, gentle melodies from her piano, and then knits them together with long ribbons of violin, as on the gorgeous title track. Those melodies reflect the miniature revelations in her lyrics, the couple who realize they "had more fun when [they] were strangers," the mumbled repetitions of "I love" that course through “Snow,” or the title track’s vision of "the gods" who "turn whole families / into target practice."
A few times I’ve seen Germano’s songs described as ‘haunting,’ which is usually shorthand for floaty and ethereal and a bit obfuscatory – none of which Germano’s really guilty of. I’d rather people saw her music as ‘haunted,’ by the pasts of the songs’ protagonists, or Germano’s own past, because the uneasiness that’s in the air when Magic Neighbor plays out suggests something far more powerful’s going on.