Ten Songs (Cheersquad Records)
Straightforward. Clear. Promises kept simple. Promises kept.
The album cover shows a woman with a guitar (electric) but otherwise, from her clothes and solidly imperturbable expression, we’re unclear as to time or place. Within the album that is the same, with songs that don’t reek of age but also possess no obvious signs that they weren’t exhumed from a dusty songbook found at the back of a charity shop.
The colour scheme on the album is stark black and white for two thirds, paired with an earthy shade for the final third: not prettied-up nor “distressed” for effect. And that is pretty much the balance of the songs: simply arranged, with as much air as instrumentation in some songs, and curiously muscular beneath modest exteriors; sung with few flourishes, but pitched from the natural centre of this singer who tells tales as if she’s barely paused between laying bricks or shelling peas.
The album says ten songs, and ten songs is what you get, done and dusted in under 35 minutes: not one song staying longer than necessary, but none of them feeling as if its progress has been abruptly curtailed.
If this suggests that you can trust T. Wilds, even if that is not her name (this being the not exactly self-explanatory nom-de-music of former SPDFGH member, Tania Bowers) it is justified. And in some ways, necessary.
Necessary because any time you have a sound and a presentation as out of place and out of its time as this there is a suspicion of some musical carpetbagger, hoovering up others’ work, or at best a musical tourist, dallying with the “cute” habits picked up on a brief, cursory visit.
Neither feels the case here. Bowers’ songs have enough of a patina of worldliness to pull the songs into at least the late 20th century, and yet they feel organic. Not in a hippie way, thank god, but like songs built from scratch and from within her. Part of that is they’re filled with lyrical textures that speak of an eye as much as an ear for the way we’re living.
I have to confess that a lot of the time with her songs I am torn between wanting to know exactly what she’s saying and not wanting to let specificity ruin what she’s made me imagine. I think I understand the ghost country Wounded Knees, for example, but I’m not going to test it.
As a singer who sometimes feels like a less burdened Karen Dalton (June has a creak in its bones but she doesn’t sound likely to crack; Goodbye, a duet with Matt Toohey, evokes night regrets within its burst of freedom), and at other times like a one woman Saint Sister or less flighty Joanna Newsom (Say It has a tempered urge-for-flight; St Cecilia hovers in the atmosphere), Bowers doesn’t have any layers of overt modernity in her presentation.
Anything like that would ruin a song such as What To Do, which Bowers and co-producer Toohey make a semi-ghostly slide through the night. But even in the more regulation understated rock of Curious Moon - electric guitar in the wind; drums as low-key anchor – the voice doesn’t direct; it is another passenger too.
You know, the further I’ve gone with Ten Songs the more I’ve come to suspect that maybe its winning element isn’t any of these individual elements I’ve been picking at. Maybe it is, to borrow from a certain film lawyer, the vibe of the thing.
That’s it, the vibe. I rest my case.
SPOTIFY: Listen to T. Wilds – Ten Songs
APPLE MUSIC: Listen to T. Wilds – Ten Songs