By JENNIFER KELLY
Elisa Ambrogio, of the feedback throwing, noise-droning Majic Markers, takes a turn towards dream pop in her first solo album, but don’t worry, there’s still a howl of distortion underneath even her prettiest, most melodic arrangements. That would be “Superstitious,” the single, where Ambrogio sound most like Mazzy Star and writes most like Elvis Costello, yet even in this tuneful mode, you can hear bits of guitar anarchy in the margins and heady self-harmonies that twist into dissonance. It’s pop, sure, but with a small vortex underneath it, not enough to shred the song to bits but enough to blow it around in interesting directions.
Elsewhere The Immoralist flits between drone, girl-group, improvisational epiphany and garage rock, steering closest towards conventional rock songcraft on “Clarinet Queen” and “Superstitious,” flirting with In the Red-style lo-fi punk on “Stopped Clocks” and exploring dream-like soft-focus landscapes, maybe a little more accessibly than Bardo Pond’s Isobel Sollenberger or Charalambides’ Christina Carter, but in the same general neighborhood. Ambrogio plays a strong, stinging lead guitar on most of these tracks, laying an incipient roar under “Mary Perfectly,” pushing gauzy “Clarinet Queen” forward with a menacing lick. She plays almost everything on this album – though producer Jason Quever of the Paper Cuts apparently sat in once or twice on drums – including cello. That’s her skittering over the strings in “Kylie,” adding a low drone to “Superstitious”; the tone is wavery, imperfect, but in absolute sync with the ambiguity of these songs.
Ambrogio’s soft, uninflected voice lends a sleepy gauziness to these songs, so that you can make out most, but not all, of the lyrics without a cheat sheet. Still, when legible, the words seem worthwhile, not just in word-play-ish “Superstitious,” but in stark, ballad-y “Kylie.” Here Ambrogio snaps a fuzzy but evocative picture of life on the surface, a girl who spends her time applying blue eye shadow and lip gloss and whose stories all come from TV. “Comers” wraps a stately drone around slow chords, considers free will (and rejects it), metaphor and the creative process. It is interesting stuff, slipping in and out of focus.
The Immoralist sets tunefulness in close proximity to hazy distortion, unsettles pop with muffled eruptions of noise and dissonance. It works on you immediately, but retains its mystery through repeated listens, offers serenity with the threat of impending violence. It is full of contradictions, but that makes it fascinating.
DOWNLOAD: “Superstitious,” “Clarinet Queen”