Alina Simone first caught my ear on the wonderful Yerbird folk compilation record (are you tired of me mentioning that record yet?). Her contribution – Gunshots – was a powerful, slow burner that made me wonder how I had overlooked her EP. Needless to say, I was super excited when her debut full-length ended up in my mailbox. Placelessness, like that song, is a showcase for Alina’s vocals.
Undoubtedly, the Ukraine born singer has a cannon for a mouthpiece, but a booming voice isn’t the only thing needed to make a great record. It's her arrangements and instrumentation that really help her stand out. Instead of playing a simple strummed acoustic, she uses sharp electric tones and drums to add aural punctuation to her lyrics. She's wants to stand up and be heard, not cower in the back with strained strums and a timid nature. The first track that really grabbed me was the infectious riff of Saw Edged Grass. It could stand on its own, but the track blossoms when her voice explores every nook and cranny of the melody.
She paints dark imagery with only a few well placed strokes, like the slow moving electric riff and drum machine rhythm of Refugees. The simplicity of the music really strengthens her vocals. You feel the pain when she laments, “We are all refugees.” Her voice soars, but never loses control or overpowers the mood of the song. Her breathy delivery on Swing draws you in like a moth to a flame, and it flickers when the bowed strings are added.
Unlike many artists, Alina avoids the urge to extend an emotion, thought or sound. Most of the songs come in under three-minutes, and that immediacy fits the range of emotions she delivers. Her thoughts are pure and honest, of regret, anger and drawing them out would only cheapen them. The only song on the record that really expands the tapestry is the the album closer (which is still only around 5 minutes), Country of Two. The song is a beautiful narrative that is so engaging you don’t even notice the extended length.
I say it too often, but the fact she doesn’t try to put too much into her songs really helps you hear the important notes. The banjo that appears on Nightswimming grabs your attention, but relents just in time for you to focus on her effortless falsetto. As she repeats, “just up ahead, just up ahead, just up ahead, it’s always” I actually felt myself trying to look forward.
Her EP - Prettier in the Dark - gathered her attention and way too many comparisons to Chan Marshall. I think with this record, Alina Simone is going to step out of that largely cast shadow, even if her sounds tend to creep among the grays and blacks of loneliness and regret.