Niobe is the incarnation of Yvonne Cornelius, who frankly has an interesting enough name for an artist anyway, but that’s beside the point. The Cclose Call, her fourth album, is conceptual, which won’t come as a surprise to anyone who has come across Niobe’s work before – she isn’t exactly a three chord wonder even if she does like a good riff.
The concept is one of counterfactual, or what might have been; 12 tracks exploring what would happen if the characters Cornelius invents had experienced horror rather than beauty in their lives. All sound a bit lofty and high brow? Perhaps. But Niobe is not inaccessible, just prone to grand gestures and a raft of ideas with her music.
Album opener The Stillness features a twang-laced guitar riff, some bouncing bass and a generous dose of background noise. Cornelius gives the occasional primal yelp to spice up a track that threatens to take off into something bigger and brasher but in the end stays jazzy and played down.
From this point, you can touch upon the strengths and weaknesses of The Cclose Calll. There is a sense that many of the tracks here have the odd hook or riff with the potential to be truly special. Unfortunately, more often than not, there are so many ideas in Cornelius’s head that no one shines through and makes the concept complete and the music unforgettable.
Throughout The Cclose Calll the theme of potential despair rings true. There’s a song about a stalker (You Send for Me), a gambling addict (Does He Gallop O Walk) and a singer who’s failing in their ambitions (You Have To Be More) – all cheerful stuff and adding some flesh to the bones of the album’s concept. All three continue with Cornelius’ jumbled and atmospheric composition, it’s hard to tell whether the incidental nature of the music is carefully laid down or a result of her wanting to do a bit too much.
A good example is Exotic – The Swarm. There’s a spoken vocal, drum loop and changes of musical direction throughout which will either sound like Radiohead Kid A/Amenesiac era genius or a mixture of parts that don’t quite work, depending on your taste. You can’t help but admire the gesture, but it can also be frustrating.
It’s worth mentioning As Long As I Can Fly, which ends The Cclose Calll, purely because as a simple acoustic guitar and vocal arrangement it’s the only traditional song on the album – a riposte to the themes of terror before, it’s positively upbeat. It’ll either come as a welcome relief if you have struggled through Cornelius’ many musical ideas or as ill fitting if you have enjoyed everything that’s come before.
It’s clear from the outset of The Cclose Calll that Yvonne Cornelius is concerned with making a conceptual statement with her work. Fusing an ambitious range of ideas from tweaked vocals to abstract background noise and a storytelling theme throughout the album, she clearly wants to do more than just write songs. But, it’s not far between genius and madness and several times on The Cclose Calll, there is a sense of frustration that her music doesn’t take off in the way it could.