My Brightest Diamond - "Reaching Through to the Other Side" (All Things Will Unwind)
On All Things Will Unwind, Shara Worden’s My Brightest Diamond offers a rigorously mannered and jarringly cluttered form of chamber pop that gestures toward both mainstream pop rock and classical ensemble material. A veteran of Sufjan Stevens’s label Asthmatic Kitty and a Stevens touring companion, Worden is formally trained, and it shows. Although there’s a slightly dissonant, even avant-garde tone to some of Worden’s compositions, nearly everything on All Things Will Unwind is rigidly controlled. Worden’s sound may not quite suffocate in its own preciousness (as Stevens’s arguably does), but it shares the stilted quality of the Illinoisemakers. Inflections of cabaret and operatic recitative give Worden’s compositions a stateliness — if not downright coldness — that even her wide array of instrumental flourishes does little to dull.
The strain of pop that runs through All Things Will Unwind lies somewhere among lieder, cabaret and the sort of accessible “indie” made to order for Apple advertising. On “We Added it Up” and “Escape Routes,” Worden’s voice and an array of string and wind instruments float atop stately percussive strums, offering something like Feist’s “1-2-3-4” plus a host of concert hall flourishes and diversions. “High Low Middle” is in a similar register, so to speak, but with a hard-driving beat and a piercing horn solo for a denouement. Though all three numbers sound fresh out of the gate (the instrumentation of “We Added it Up” even recalls the sound Joe Boyd achieved on Nick Drake’s first two records), repeated listens grow taxing. Each recording is filled to the brim with an exhausting quantity of staccato lines for voice, strings, winds and horns. In these moments and elsewhere, All Things Will Unwind offers an austere analogue to the swirling, fiery colors of the album’s artwork.
The record’s more experimental pieces are somewhat less taut and cluttered, but offer less in the way of memorable melodic moorings. “Reaching Through to the Other Side” and “In the Beginning,” for instance, sound like a collaboration between Björk and Sufjan Stevens — somehow both too little and too much, simultaneously. The operatic minor lament “She Does Not Brave the War” gives the listener a respite, but it’s not until the album’s closer, the organ ballad “I Have Never Loved Someone,” that there is real relief. There, Worden’s powerful voice at last finds a spacious outlet.
Worden is a talented artist chock-full of ideas. With greater judiciousness of selection and sorting, and greater melodic anchoring, perhaps she may one day offer up a chamber style rejoinder to Rain Dogs or Swordfishtrombones. On All Things Will Unwind, though, the bursts of inspiration in each corner and crevice remain too stiff to merge into anything more than the sum of their parts.