Everything Is Fine (Independent)
Everything is fine? I don’t think so.
Sure, this is no parade of utter despair, and certainly not a release of anger and retribution – in at least one song there’s an argument made for trusting in the world to do right by you, even if the evidence suggests otherwise, and in the final track, called Good, she says “I know everything will be alright” and you half believe she half believes - but El Tee isn’t here for the good times.
Close and sometimes claustrophobic, presented under skies that grow ever darker as the album progresses, scattered with lines that offer scepticism if not outright disavowal of the idea of the title, this is a record which suggests things most decidedly are not ticketyboo.
Lauren Tarver, aka El Tee, explores the fringes of the questionable and uncertain times, the border country where memories blur the bruises of friendships lost (“So it seems that I left you/I’m so sorry/Or did you leave me first/I can’t remember”) or prospects seem in doubt and the past feels more secure (“You say you have baggage/So do we/So does everyone else, including me/I don’t care”). Where god is invoked but is he (and in this case it is a he) listening? And nature seems to close in in ways that are more threatening than soothing.
This set up suggests a solo record of almost microscopic intimacy, which would fit her into a strand of alternative singer/songwriters beloved by bitter old men as much as buffeted-by-life teens, the type of singers who seemingly are mostly New Zealanders, mesmerising, and just that extra bit odd. And certainly, Tarver’s voice is centred and mere centimetres away from your ear, her timbre promising character.
The problem with this approach, on the evidence here anyway, is that this would have asked too much of both her melodies and her vocal variety at this stage of her career. While Stranger hovers attractively in the air above the chords, floating higher when the drums and bass arrive, Good works to charm, and Hold On pulls you through to its winding guitar line, there’s a bit of sameness within songs (Party, for example, begins with a shimmering jangle but thereafter is held down by its unwillingness to take the next step, to deviate) and across the album, to put her in the category of compelling.
The best moments are when the arrangements have the band (apart from Tarver on guitar there’s Tim Scott on lead, Andrew McEwan on drums and Mimi Gilbert on bass) as something of a counterpoint not just accompaniment, and the occasional contrasts serve the songs well.
Space doesn’t get fussy but the bass intrudes just enough and the guitars pick their way through to provide colour; How I Like It is full bodied; and the title track suggests menace in nothing more than an acoustic guitar before, halfway through, the bass amplifies that menace into something on equal footing with the melody.
More of that, I reckon, and everything would be fine indeed.