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The Graham Weekly Album Review #1388

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Sarah Fimm: Nexus
by George Graham

(Independent release As broadcast on WVIA-FM 1/5/2005)

Most people associate singer-songwiters with acoustic guitars, invoking the classic image of the folkie. There are a few of the breed to play piano, and some who play in rock bands. On the other hand, practitioners of electronic music are hardly known for their thoughtful lyrics, if there are lyrics at all.

This week, we have an interesting combination of the two, a singer-songwriter who is accompanied by an ethereal electronic setting that at times borders on what could be called New Age music, though generally with a lot more substance than typical New Age. Her name is Sarah Fimm, which itself has definite New Age connotations, and her new CD, her third, is called Nexus.

Sarah Fimm is based in New York, and in addition to her two previous independent CDs, has also had some of her songs used for TV and film productions. Her new CD features songs with the confessional and philosophical lyrical direction typical of a sensitive folkie, but adds instrumentation that might be more typical of electronic dance music or New Age. Her slow, often lugubrious songs nicely mesh the atmospheric carpet of sounds with her clear, but often haunting vocals. The electronic setting conjures the mellow side of 1980s electronic popster Howard Jones with the sonic explorations of the influential Scottish band The Blue Nile. In a way, the electronic sounds I suppose, could be called "vintage" from a technological standpoint. The synthesizers have a distinctly "analogue" sound, while there is also a collection of electro-mechanical keyboards, such as the Fender-Rhodes piano and the Hammond B3 organ. And all of that is underpinned by a mostly sequenced electronic rhythm that fits well with the synthesizer sounds. One thing I find refreshing about the CD is a kind of reversion to the old philosophy of electronic music, that is the creation of distinctive and novel sounds, rather than the emulation of conventional instruments, which so many people with synthesizers seem intent on doing. There's also a fair amount of acoustic piano, though in the reverb-soaked recording, it is also given an ethereal quality.

Ms. Fimm, who plays many of the keyboards, is joined by a small and variable band including Mike Geraghty on bass, Matt Moldover on guitars and additional keyboards, and Jim Perry on real and sequenced percussion. There are also some less frequently featured guests, such as string players and a percussionist.

Nexus has a distinctly dark quality, in terms of its sound, as well as on some of the lyrics. Ms. Fimm writes about relationships torn asunder as well as about drawing inspiration from the sea. This is a rainy day kind of record, but it's very well done, and rarely gets close to being too angst-ridden or maudlin. The 15 pieces comprising the generous 58 minute CD also include a three atmospheric instrumentals.

The CD opens with one of its most distinctive songs, which helps to define the sound of the album, Losing Velocity. It blends Ms. Fimm's seemingly classically trained vocals, with the ruminating electronic backdrop that itself is almost a dichotomy with the machine-like beat contrasting to the cathedral-like qualities of the droning synthesizers. <<>>

The spacey texture of the music comes to the fore lyrically on the song Mercury. It's one of the album's highlights, bringing to bear a lot more musical subtlety than is usually associated with electronic sounds, in a way reminiscent of the Blue Nile. <<>>

That segues into one of the instrumentals, Space Journey, a short piece that lives up to its name. <<>>

The harder-edged side of the CD comes out on Sky Is Falling Down, whose lyrics seem as pessimistic as the title. The use of real drums gives the piece a more rock-like quality, though this facet of the CD is not its most effective. <<>>

Music like this stands the danger of crossing over into the pretentious. The title track Nexus comes awfully close to the line, though it does have its interesting moments. <<>>

Though the CD's lyrics often lament a relationship in disrepair, there is one straight-out love song. Orchids, is striking in its scaled back sound, with only Ms. Fimm's voice at its gorgeous best, and her Rhodes electric piano dominating joined by a cello. <<>>

While Ms. Fimm's voice is frequently enchanting, she also created an atmospheric instrumental piece that's at the level anything on the New Age scene. The well-named Entranced skillfully combines a pulsating synthesizer ostinato with plaintive lines from her acoustic piano. <<>>

The CD's lengthiest track is called Great Wide Open, a reference to the sea. It allows for more explorations of sonic textures, though Ms. Fimm's vocals again dance of the edge of pretentiousness. <<>>

Sarah Fimm's new CD Nexus is a fascinating blend that will quickly draw you into its sound, with its distinctive electronic backing for Ms. Fimm's often strikingly beautiful vocals. There is the risk, in bringing in such new age influences, of either turning into sonic pabulum or being too far out in space. This CD does come close to being a little too "New Agey" at times, or too angst-ridden at others. And though I think it's good to get more for one's money in a CD, I also think the CD is a little too long for its own good, as it can get in a bit of a rut at times. Judicious editing would have made the proportion of outstanding moments much higher. Still, the CD is frequently intriguing, and often downright enchanting for its skillful combination of influences that seem to come from such disparate places.

Our grade for sound quality is an "A." The ethereal quality of the sound is very impressively done, though I might quibble for the need for some of the processing and effects done to Ms. Fimm's vocals. The dynamic range, the difference between loud and soft is also better than average.

Combining the lyrical and vocal approach of a folk-oriented singer-songwriter with the electronic instrumentation of New Agers and techno-styled artists could have been a musical culture clash, but in Sarah Fimm's skillful hands, the result is a worthwhile and memorable recording.

(c) Copyright 2005 George D. Graham. All rights reseved.
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