sound patrol 10-7-04
The world of men
In the World of Him
(Touch and Go)
Sick unto death of so-called security moms and their effect on the upcoming election? Are women the new white men? The latest solo CD by Mekons singer Sally Timms seems spookily relevant, even though its timing is probably coincidental; In the World of Him has been in the works for several years, predating the release of her last full-length, 1999's Cowboy Sally's Twilight Laments. The new album's concept is simple: a woman singing from a man's perspective about male preoccupations. As Timms explained in a recent interview with No Depression, "They're all [songs] about men, but they're really about the way the world works, too, since men control that for the most part."
In the years that it's taken Timms to finish the album, Tori Amos and others have beaten her to the punch, but no matter: Timms is a born drag king, and the male-controlled world has never looked bleaker. But despite the seriousness of the album's themes -- war, death, the inarticulate speech of the heart -- she never comes off as strident or self-righteous, mocking the idiot men who insist on ruining everything for everyone. She inhabits these songs without camp or vitriol because she is a singer who thrives on contradiction and opposing energies. Her clear, tremulous voice is at once arch and ardent, her delivery both ironic and helplessly sincere. This come hither/don't bother dynamic is at the heart of her vocal gift, a gift that relies not on showy effects or an impressive range but on character, intelligence, and empathic depth.
These qualities inform her choice of material, which is perfectly suited to her silvery warble and queenly reserve. On Mark Eitzel's terrifying lullaby "God's Eternal Love," Timms takes on the Christian right's suicidal quest for global domination; when she sings, "and your death is only the key to the future, and your children are just pigs, they will roast," she sounds resigned, not angry. Cognitive dissonance abounds: Fellow Mekon Jon Langford's "Sentimental Marching Song" makes the world-weary generalization "all men the same, born to brutalize," while Kevin Coyne's hilariously inarticulate "I'm Just a Man" shows a side of the male psyche that's tender to the point of wussiness. The spare but wide-ranging arrangements, in which banjos and musical saws consort with Moogs and samplers, have a spectral elegance, hovering somewhere between lo-fi electronica and ancient folk balladry. In the World of Him dissolves all easy dichotomies, creating a sympathetic space for Timms's meditations on gender and destiny.
Canadian singer/songwriter Julie Doiron writes small songs, homely as a handmade potholder -- what the French might call jolie-laide. Where other songwriters bludgeon with clever phrases and catchy hooks, Doiron embraces the mundane and the modest. Where other indie-rock types want to come off like provocateurs or jaded decadents, Doiron sings about the pleasures of a wintry evening en famille and the pain of being separated from her loved ones. Her songs meander, largely unencumbered by traditional verse/chorus/verse structure, just as her voice, a plain and plaintive alto, tends to drift off key, wavering between notes or maybe lingering on ones that don't appeal to Western ears.
On Goodnight Nobody, these odd domestic ditties have a loose, fragmentary, almost improvisational quality, perhaps owing to the fact that they were recorded in three days with a new backing band, Herman Dune. During weaker moments, Doiron sounds as if she's singing random pages from her diary, making up the melody as she goes along. At her best, though, she illuminates the ordinary like a latter-day Vermeer.