Album Reviews

Maria Taylor – 11:11

(Saddle Creek) UK release date: 23 May 2005

The Omaha-based record company of Saddle Creek is quickly building up an enviable pedigree of recording artists. As well as Bright Eyes, there’s also Now It’s Overhead and future stars in waiting Rilo Kiley. Now, a voice that’s been heard on many Saddle Creek recordings, Maria Taylor, has recorded her first solo album.

As well as being a member of Now It’s Overhead, Taylor is probably best known for being part of Azure Ray, the duo whose dreamy etherealness won them a loyal army of fans. 11:11 is sure to appeal to Azure Ray admirers, and the fact that Saddle Creek has suddenly become so damn cool means that her appeal could well spread beyond her natural fanbase.

As is the usual case with Saddle Creek, the label’s roster of stars make guest appearances here, with Now It’s Overhead’s Andy LeMaster and Bright Eyes’ Mike Mogis are on production duties while Cursive‘s Greta Cohn and Conor Oberst himself appear on the hypnotic Song Beneath The Song.

The latter already sounds destined for classic status. Taylor’s breathy vocal intone lyrics that seem to be a warning against deciphering songs too literally. They’re some of the most intelligent lyrics you’ll hear all year, but never get too clever for their own good. By the time Oberst pops up on the chorus to sing the nagging refrain of “it’s not a love song”, you’ll be addicted.

One For The Shareholder is probably the song that stands out the most, as it’s completely different to the rest of the album. A juddering electro-pop song, with heavy synths dominating, it’s danceable, catchy and with Taylor’s whispery “uh-uh-uh”, pretty damn sexy. It’s a lot better than Kelly Osbourne‘s recent attempt to jump on the Bravery’s badwagon, put it that way.

But it’s the quieter moments that really move here. Xanax (named after the anti-anxiety medication) has an appropriately unsettling atmosphere, with its mention of being afraid of airplanes, cars and being “swept away by the undertow”. Both Lighthouse and Nature Song have touches of Kathryn Williams to them, while Speak Easy has a more traditional bluegrass country feel to it, with its banjo and beautiful violin line.

With no bad tracks here, Maria Taylor has produced a glorious record. On first listen there may not be much to distinguish it from the seemingly endless line of female singer/songwriters, but after a few plays the subtle nuances of the album work their way into your brain, and you’ll soon be wondering how you’ve lived so long without having these songs in your life. Straddling genres such as folk, country and even a bit of good old-fashioned pop, 11:11 has the potential to be one of the albums of the year.

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Maria Taylor – 11:11