July 13, 2003

Lisa Germano "Lullaby for Liquid Pig"

Pity Lisa Germano. Her pedigree as John Mellencampís former violinist has caused many indie snobs to turn their noses up at her, and criticsí insistence on lazily aligning her music with the Lilith Fair aesthetic of ethereal girls with guitars hasnít helped matters much. Over the last twelve years, Germanoís discography has been such a model of consistency and reliability that even fans of her music can take it for granted. We know that every couple of years, she will release an album of songs chronicling unhappiness in all its forms. These songs will be written with Velvet Underground simplicity and catchiness. Theyíll be performed with a stoicism and numbness that hides the torrent of emotions lurking underneath. Last but not least, theyíll be produced with cinematic, near-gothic flair. (Then again, what else would you expect from a longtime 4AD artist?) Each album has been solid, with no masterpieces or stinkers standing out among the restÖuntil now. Germanoís sixth album is the perfect tonic for people who find Cat Power too catatonic and Xiu Xiu too grotesque, yet still seek soundtracks to their bad moods.

Lullaby for Liquid Pig is a concept album. The last time Germano attempted something like this was on 1996ís Excerpts from a Love Circus, which chronicled an abusive romantic relationship. This time, the main theme is alcohol, which is referred to in exactly half the songs either directly or indirectly. ìLiquid Pigî chastises an antagonist who says the wrong things when drunk. In ìPearls,î alcohol is used as a method of escape, to ìfill your open soresî and ìwear your mask like itís real.î The protagonist of ìCandyî realizes that as good as drinking feels, it still wonít make the hurt inside go away: ìWhat a good place to be/Too bad itís raining inside.î Yet, on ìItís Party Timeî she goes right back to her ten-dollar bottle of red wine. The lyrics to the title track initially read like a desperate plea to her lover: ìWithout your love, the world is just here/It doesnít move me.î However, its first line, ìI need a fix,î makes it clear that Germanoís singing to her bottle, not to another human being. The closest thing this record has to a love song is ìPaper Doll,î in which she repeats the words ìYou can always play with me,î an assertion that doesnít sound as reassuring when bracketed by masochistic commands such as ìscissor meî and ìcut me out.î The albumís final song, ìÖto Dream,î could be viewed as some sort of intervention: ìDonít give up your dream. Itís really all you have, and I donít want to see you die.î Overall, these lyrics are the simplest and most plainspoken of Germanoís entire career.

The easy rhyme schemes and near-clichÈs that pop up all over the songs would sound maudlin if not for two things: the despondence that oozes of her raspy voice and the woozy musical arrangements. Whereas previous albums occasionally overwhelmed her voice with odd instrumentation and studio trickery, Liquid Pig puts Germanoís voice front and center. The majority of this album lacks both drumming and tempo, with Germanoís singing and playing speeding up, stopping, or slowing down at will, and the rest of the instruments following suit. She handles these songs with the delicacy of a mother singing nursery rhymes to a child at bedtime. On opener ìNobodyís Playing,î the piano and guitar follow each other as if theyíre walking up and down a staircase together, haunted by the disembodied voices and drones that surround them every few seconds. ìLiquid Pigî sports a slight dub influence, with the drums placed front and center and everything else (minimal bass, distorted vocals, distant flute) trailing behind it. The string arrangement on ìDream Glasses Offî veers off-key at just the right moments, adding another layer of spookiness to an already eerie song. On ìAll the Pretty Lies,î the two-step drum programming is buried so low in the mix that it sounds like a faint heartbeat, making the song sound much slower than it actually is. In many songs, toy instruments harmonize with proper instruments, and Optigans duel with the instruments they were meant to imitate. These choices in instrumentation underscore the tension between drunken fantasy and sobering reality that runs through the lyrics.

The liner notes to Liquid Pig list only two musicians other than Lisa, whereas previous albums sported a very long cast of characters. By stripping things down musically and sharpening her lyrical focus, Lisa has crafted her best effort yet. Those of you in the know probably already own it by now, but everyone whoís slept on her skill really needs to give this beautiful, brilliant buzz kill of an album a chance.

--Sean Padilla

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