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Martina Topley-Bird - Some Place Simple

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Artist: Martina Topley-Bird

Album: Some Place Simple

Label: Honest Jon's

Review date: Nov. 2, 2010

Some Place Simple is an apt title for this album. These songs are, in fact, very simple. That’s perhaps the largest element of their appeal — often it’s Martina Topley-Bird’s voice with just a simple piano track backing her up. And more often than not, she’s singing in a brittle, isolated kind of way, her voice seemingly detached yet reliably beautiful.

Topley-Bird first came to notice for her vocals on Tricky’s trend-setting album Maxinquaye 15 years ago, and in the time since, she’s racked up three LPs of her own. Some Place Simple reworks and strips down some of the best songs from that stretch and adds a handful of new tunes as well. At only 37 minutes, it’s rare for a song here to run past the three-minute mark.

As if these songs have been unpeeled, only a few layers are left in most cases. "Baby Blue" is just gorgeous, floating vocals and ukulele, with accents of chimes and simple drums. "Phoenix" may be the song here, thanks to the unforgettable vocal melody; Topley-Bird’s voice is augmented by only a wavering organ and, partway through, a barely-perceptible drum beat. The production emphasizes her presence such that every breath is clearly audible, making the song — and its lyrics, about death and rebirth — intensely personal.

In a few cases, the songs amp up the energy level, though the album is always more about emotional energy than musical. "Sandpaper Kisses" builds into a heavy repetitive riff driven by grungy guitar, while "Too Tough" rocks more than anything else on the album, hitting a bluesy kind of drive via heavy drums and buzzing guitar.

Those are the outliers, though, amid a collection of often dreamy, woozy songs where Topley-Bird’s vulnerable yet steely voice rightly holds focus. By stripping away everything but the barest frame, it reveals the core of each song as clearly as can be, and the core here is certainly rewarding. An often surprising album, on deeper listening Some Place Simple turns out to be less simple than it initially seems.

By Mason Jones

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