label: Soft Alarm Music
our score: 2.0 out of 5.0
Let me first
get most of my compliments out of the way as a form of insult
absolution. Flora Reed is a singer-songwriter of burgeoning sincerity
and has a good ear for how best to present her music. Nothing
sounds worse than an album binged on production. You know, like
those records piled with session trumpets, sitars and one of those
ghastly rent-a-choirs. Flora Reed keeps it quiet and simple; most
of the tracks on Settle Down are beautifully arranged.
“Flowers at My Feet” is a perfect example of cunning
simplicity, particularly the nude, hushing drums that flow in
Reed’s vocal style is best taken in small doses. There’s
a great smoky quality to her voice that gets clotty whenever she
pushes it into mild vocal acrobatics. Reed never really busts
out of her very narrow range and on many of the tracks her voice
sounds caged and cloying. After several listens I found the asthmatic
reach of her vocals to be difficult to take. It’d be different
if her lyrics provided the space for intrigue that her voice doesn’t.
Unfortunately, the subjects of her songs seem equally limited.
Flora Reed’s lyrics pool around the subjects of hissy betrayal,
slightly obsessive love and then lyrics which remind me of Tori
Amos: dully cryptic.
Said” she writes “His heart still clatters like bones
underwater/It calls out loud enough to hear”. This record
is rife with perplexing images that never electrify. Would bones
clatter underwater? I don’t know, but I do know that poetry
done well is poetry that just happens in an organic dialect. Much
of these songs sound as if they’re feelings that get churned
through a poetry some kind of poetry machine akin to a Sylvia
Path snow cone maker.
This is very
much in the Natalie Merchant vein of songwriting, that kind of
Lilith Fair bathtub pop that supposed to be massaging in its general
effect. For me, the general effect is absence, and I have to constantly
remind myself that music is playing and that I’m supposed
to be writing about it and, therefore, should be listening.
get me wrong, there are moments of noticeable beauty. “Just
Ask”, with its spare instrumentation and back-up harmony,
goes a long way to creating a stunning, delicate pop song with
just a dash of gospel. “Settle Down”, despite some
wince-inducing lyrics, has a Fiona Apple grind that sounds sassy
and coquettish enough to catch in the ear.
The rest of
the record could do with a couple emergency buckets of raunch.
I suppose not everyone has to look to their crotch for inspiration,
but it sure helps. Especially when you’re writing about
relationships in that really vague, day dreamy, Prince Charming
sort of way. Maybe that’s it, the difference between writing
a song that sounds like it’s about something that happened
versus something primarily imagined. Reed’s songwriting
sphere seems to be ungrounded, nebulous, or in the case of her
elegy for a Toni Morrison novel, too removed from her own experience
to be emotionally impacting. Her cover of Bjork’s “Joga”
deflates the original to the point of suffocation. After all,
the song is supposed to convey this a sense of hugeness since
it’s supposed to be about Bjork’s love for the geographic
majesty of her homeland. Reed’s acapella rendition is a
There are much worse things to do musically than
make a pop singer album for hungering Sarah MacLachlan or Dar
Williams fans. Despite what I said above, I didn’t hate
this record. In fact, I would describe my reaction as detached,
if anything at all. I think there are many people who find this
just the sort of Dear Diary album that they gives them the vein
opening comfort they crave. I need something else to pull me through,
something a bit more chancy and something that commands me to
listen rather than compels me to pick up a book.
liked Settle Down...
1. Flowers At My Feet
2. Wake Up Laughing
3. Settle Down
4. Happiness Is
7. Just Ask
8. Sweetly Said
9. Calm What Was
10. Who Brought You Down