Live Review: WaveSauce at BYTE ME 2012

A theremin

If you’re like me, you’ve probably been asking yourself “Why don’t more surf bands use a theremin in their act?” You also may be asking yourself, “What in God’s name is a theremin?” And for that you are to be forgiven. It’s not a common instrument in rock and roll. It’s not a common instrument in much of anything, but it seems to me like country music could possibly be a logical vehicle for such an apparatus. More on that later.

Oh, you know the drill. You’ve actually heard a theremin before, you just don’t know it. In essence, a theremin is a very, very primitive synthesizer. It generates that eerie siren-call you hear in old movies such as The Day The Earth Stood Still, Spellbound, and more recently in Ed Wood. The Beach Boys created a theremin sound for “Good Vibrations,” but that wasn’t actually a theremin they used. Some guy played a musical saw on a couple Neutral Milk Hotel songs. A musical saw sounds like a theremin, with similar creepy portamento and glissando. But a musical saw and a theremin have about as much in common as a hammer and a radio.

Leon Theremin invented the theremin in 1920 as part of a Russian government program researching proximity sensors. Soon thereafter, Theremin left Russia, touring Europe and the US, demonstrating to captivated crowds his new instrument. He received a US patent for his unusual creation in 1928. Remaining in the United States, he was apparently spirited away by the KGB in 1938 and taken back to Russia. There, he was obliged to work in a laboratory at a prison camp in Siberia for thirty years. He did not return to the US until 1991, two years before his death.

The best-known “thereminist” in the world is the late Clara Rockmore, who was originally a classically trained violinist, before physical problems forced her to abandon the instrument. She learned of the theremin and soon began working with the inventor to improve the sound and response of his device. She also developed the very subtle ballet-like technique of the hands and fingers required to actually play the instrument. You can check out a video of Clara Rockmore rockin’ the theremin here.

Michele “Cookie” Heile, a longtime percussionist and vocalist with Jesus Presley, first became interested in the theremin in 2005 after seeing the Leon Theremin documentary An Electronic Odyssey. She says she “became obsessed with the mystery, history, and beauty of the instrument.” She acquired one and slowly taught herself how to play.

In 2007, Cookie met Cleveland-transplant Pete Vercellotti, a musician since age thirteen and an avid collector of all things vintage Rock. Cookie and Pete hit it off instantly, personally and professionally. They formed the instrumental band WaveSauce not long after meeting—initially as just a duo. Pete already had in place the foundation of another band called Pale Blue Sky. Still in operation, Pale Blue Sky is a tough, eclectic quartet that plays a gritty combination of original songs and cover songs culled from Pete’s extensive LP collection.

Wave Sauce

Not long after WaveSauce formed, Pete and Cookie began to work with drummers and bassists. They eventually bonded with drummer Doug Powers. And about two years ago, longtime Pale Blue Sky bassist Joel Boutwell came on board and the quartet was set. They say they’ve “been influenced by ‘60s garage, pulp music, and B-rated horror, spy biker and hotrod films (which they refer to as spyfi-pulp). And surf.”

That sounds reasonable. When you hear them, the instrumental turf they tread is pretty obvious. Other citations, such as Dick Dale, The Ventures, Devo, Clara Rockmore and Leon Theremin, are totally appropriate in an attempt to capture a description of the nuances of their sound. I guarantee you will never again see those five names linked in a single sentence. It really is a weird musical world in which we dwell. And this is how weird I am, I can actually understand the relationships of those references and I think they define the parameters of this band quite precisely. In other words: Wow!

WaveSauce play a lot of originals. But there is a distinct advantage in playing obscure material that lies genetically embedded in the recesses of all human brains. If you play original stuff that sounds very familiar, it is easy to convince the casual listener (in this instance: me) that it’s all cover songs. Mais au contraire.

The addition of theremin to Surf songs is not as unsettling as you might think (but it sure as hell would be for Clara Rockmore, you can bet on that). For some reason it seems to lend itself to the wavy motion of the typical surf tune. It’s too bad more (any) B-movies didn’t utilize the theremin in their surf-themed flicks or spy (a wailing woman sound) or biker flicks (police siren allusion). It could have worked. It does work. Does anybody still make cheesy biker B-movies like Glory Stompers, Wild Angels, Devil’s Angels, or Hell’s Angels on Wheels? Maybe Robert Rodriguez?

WaveSauce maneuver through several classics (known and unknown)—such as with Pete’s nifty guitar on the thick, chord-heavy “Deep Surf” by Jerry Cole and the Spacemen (of which Leon Russell was a member) from 1964, and Cookie’s swirly-whirly take on the Chantays’ “Pipeline.” They carry off the persistent cheerleading clap and windblown momentum of the Routers’ “Let’s Go” with spunky aplomb: Boutwell balancing the arrangement on solid fulcrum low-end.

Among their originals, “Phantom Strut” and “Sonic Who,” stand out. The cool “Black Cat Strut” is punctuated by Pete’s cat-in-heat moan, while his crazy cackle gives “Die Laughing” a certain “Wipe Out” maniacal sensibility. With Powers muscling through the turns and driving the main theme, WaveSauce’s rendition of the Reekers’ ‘60s nugget “Don’t Call Me Flyface” is actually more appealing than the original. Cookie zooms through the expositional sections like a crazed zephyr—assuming zephyrs can become crazed.

WaveSauce’s version of Hank Mancini’s “Peter Gunn Theme” is very innovative. Cookie leads the band through the familiar curves with a slippery solo, while Pete vamps out punchy chords behind her. Nice. And their take on the endless sunset of Santo and Johnny’s “Sleepwalk” is especially interesting. Those familiar with the song are doubtless keenly aware of the exacting steel guitar precision of the melody line. The theremin does not allow for Cookie to articulate the nuances, but she hits the high spots. When the day comes that she finally masters this piece, she can consider herself a true theremin master.

They also do a pretty sharp version of Stan Jones’ “Ghostriders in the Sky,” a piece possibly harvested from another of their acts: Panhandle Pete and Cookie. In describing that duo Cookie says “Imagine a long dark highway stretching out through the Southwest desert.” Again, with theremin and guitar, they perform “country standards that set the soundtrack for a spaghetti western directed by David Lynch.”

My brain’s all over the place with this theremin thing. The surf aspect is great. It’s an outlet, but certainly limited in scope. The other musical areas that Pete and Cookie are exploring seem like a good idea. I’d love to hear a version of “Apache” either the Shadows or Jorgen Ingmann’s (depending upon where your sentiments lie) rendition would be fine. And a retread of “Walk Don’t Run” seems like a good idea. I can hear Cookie going off on that.

But I’d also love to hear her take a crack at something like Duane Allman’s slide solo in “Layla.”  I guess that’s technically almost out in spaghetti western territory. Actually the theremin is more than a satisfactory replacement for those banshee soprano voices Ennio Morricone favored, such as for that movie named after this column. And what about country music? The theremin could more than satisfactorily replace a pedal steel guitar, at least in a single note capacity. Which brings us to bluegrass and the musical saw.

It will be fun to see where Pete and Cookie take this thing. There are many possibilities. A theremin is such a strange instrument, and rare to encounter, that it would seem there will always be occasional demand for such a curiosity. With WaveSauce, they have hit upon an unusual and successful delivery system. But they’ve got a lot of ways they can go, depending on the direction in which the trade winds blow.

The World of T,E.D. and How You’re Probably In It

Number 9 Guy

I have seen the future of art. I wasn’t expecting it and I certainly didn’t anticipate it coming from the mouths of talking teddy bears, but such are the cumulative quintessences of kismet and epiphany. Ephemeral. Ethereal. Evanescent. Temporal. All exists in the moment. Like a room full of talking teddy bears venting their deepest, darkest secrets.

Eighty of them. Eighty Teddy Ruxpin toy teddy bears offering sentiments and observations from a wide spectrum of emotional perspectives. Well, a spectrum twenty-four emotions wide, actually. And not wide so much as a conical vortex of colliding feelings and sensations. And then there’s the amorphously abstract dreamlike sound track.

The talking teddy bears are the stars of a project referred to as T,E.D.—which stands for Transformations, Emotional Deconstruction. It debuted as part of the BYTE ME 2012 exhibition at Launch Pad Gallery (, on January 6th. The press release describes the production as a “large work [which] features 80 customized Teddy Ruxpin dolls wired together, delivering real-time emotional content from the internet in discreet 1-minute ‘packages’ based on the Emotion Wheel developed by the psychologist Robert Plutchik. Additional interactive real-time input can also be received from text messaging or an on-site user interface.”

Whew! Okay, fine.

T,E.D. is the brainchild of conceptual artist Sean Hathaway, with Carlos Severe Marcelin of Sally Tomato providing the imaginatively unique soundtrack. The result of their collaboration is a technological achievement of some dense specific gravity, the ramifications of which extend exponentially throughout the art and music worlds, their impact not yet fully determined.

Teddy Ruxpin

It’s probably been 25 years since the real heyday of the Ruxpin empire. For those unfamiliar (and I’m no expert, to be sure), the Teddy Ruxpin line were the teddy bears of choice for discerning four-year-olds in the mid-80s. The cache was that the Ruxpin bears talked. They told stories. They moved their eyes and mouths as they told stories. With the mere slip of a cassette into the accessible backside port, the toys could change their stories, and ostensibly, change their limited range of facial expressions as well.

And so the technology slumbered for two decades, until 2005, when Backpack Toys produced Teddy Ruxpin 4.0, which finally exchanged analog technology for thum thar new-fangled digital ROM cartridges. But Backpack eventually discontinued production and the remaining dolls were left to languish in outpost warehouses scattered around the nation. There is nothing so inexpensive as load of unwanted Teddy Ruxpin dolls. But alas, there it is.

When Sean Hathaway was just a kid, Teddy Ruxpin was all the rage. He says he was “scared of those bears…for their vague and gross mechanical representation of a living thing.” Considering what he ended up doing with the bears, that’s a presciently fortuitous choice of words.

What inspired his experimentation with Teddy Ruxpin dolls, anyway?

“Having a palette of Teddy Ruxpins in my basement,” he giggles.

Well, yes. That would seem to be a determining feature: a basement full of teddy bears.

“There was this old surplus store called Wacky Willie’s—it went out of business. They’d had these for years. I’d been looking at them since I was a kid. And I said okay, I’ll give you twenty-five cents apiece for them. I got a hundred of them, so…”

A hundred. Sure. Who’d ever pass up the opportunity at a hundred Teddy Ruxpin dolls? A no-brainer. And so how long has Sean been working on this venture?

“Off and on for about three years. It’s just been my evening project. It started out like ‘what am I gonna do with all these dolls?’ But it started to take on a life of its own. I could make them talk. Okay, now that I can make them talk, what are they going to say?”

Yeah. Now that you can make them talk. Way way way…Wait a minute. “Make them talk?” “What are they gonna say?” Is this going to be like one of those stories you hear about where some Asian porn flick is coming out of the mouths of Ruxpins, or something like that?



“I was playing around with voice synthesis and realized I could get basic info about phonemes, which I could use to animate their mouths in sync with the speech synthesis. So now I have this creepy sort of animatronic puppet that’d speak any text I give it. Okay, that’s pretty fun but now what should it say? What’s worth saying? Then I remembered the excellent web site /online art piece by Jonathan Harris and Sep Kamvar, which aggregates emotional content out of people’s blogs in real time. They invite other artists to use their data and offer a mechanism to query it.”

Uh, aggregates emotional content? Gee…

“That part just came about on its own over time. At first I started with a bunch of bears that I wanted to make sing in some sort of chorus. I thought maybe an opera where the bears would burst into flames as characters died. But as I explored the bears and technology, and as I made some fortunate mistakes playing with them, they presented me with a series of decisions that led to the final piece.”

The site is a work of genius in its own right. Their manifesto states:

“Since August 2005, We Feel Fine has been harvesting human feelings from a large number of weblogs. Every few minutes, the system searches the world’s newly posted blog entries for occurrences of the phrases ‘I feel’ and ‘I am feeling’. When it finds such a phrase, it records the full sentence, up to the period, and identifies the ‘feeling’ expressed in that sentence (e.g. sad, happy, depressed, etc.). Because blogs are structured in largely standard ways, the age, gender, and geographical location of the author can often be extracted and saved along with the sentence, as can be the local weather conditions at the time the sentence was written. All of this information is saved. The result is a database of several million human feelings, increasing by 15,000-20,000 new feelings per day. Using a series of playful interfaces, the feelings can be searched and sorted across a number of demographic slices, offering responses to specific questions.”

If you’re asking yourself, “Gosh, I wonder if this technology could be used for evildoing?” you and I are on the same page. And that’s just the tip of the creative emotional sno-cone in this particular case. There’s much more to the story. Robert Plutchik’s Emotion Wheel.

Robert Plutchik conceived of a system for exploring the full range of human emotions and how they are related. In 1980, he developed a twenty-four-color, two-dimensional, emotion “wheel,” as well as a three-dimensional conic version, to illustrate the complex inter-relationship between positive and negative emotions, demonstrating that human feelings were an intricate combination of emotions. A veritable rainbow stew.

Plutchik Emotion Wheel

In Plutchik’s system there are eight principal emotions, four pairs of polar opposites, found at the primary and secondary intercardinal points of the wheel: Joy/Sadness and Fear/Anger at the primary points. Trust/Disgust and Surprise/Anticipation at the secondary points. The three primary colors/emotions are: Red/Rage, Blue/Grief, and Yellow/Ecstasy. Everything else builds from there, I guess. Seems reasonable. Pretty much covers it in my world.

Though innovative, Plutchik’s union of emotions with colors was, obviously, not a novel idea. Red with rage, blue with sadness, and green with envy have been with us since…since colors and analogies, I suppose. Similar correlations to the western musical octave and the twelve-tone scale are certainly appropriate, although as yet not fully explored, as far as I know. And then there’s the Lüscher-Color-Diagnostic, of course. Put that all together and you’ve got a real concept, although I am unable to conceive of it at this time.

But with three intensities of eight spectral colors (there are two shades of green in Plutchik’s spectrum), all primary, secondary and tertiary colors and related hues are represented, twenty-four in all, twenty-four gradations of emotions, each within fifteen degrees of the next. There are a few specialty items, such as a very pretty, salmon-colored “Annoyance” and a verdant, meadowy, chartreuse “Acceptance.” But all the color/emotion combinations seem to fit, somehow. Pastels. Mix and match colors and emotions and you’ve got Freudian Feng Shui 101. Is that a thing? Sign me up.

How did the Plutchik Emotion Wheel come to play in Sean’s grand design?

“Close to the end of the initial concept development I knew I wanted Ted’s performances to be self-generative based on what was happening emotionally online at any given moment, but I found that just letting it run in a totally random way was really confusing and displeasing. I didn’t want to force or drive what the installation was doing as that would kill the generative aspect of it. So I needed a way to enforce a set of basic rules from which just the right amount of order would emerge out of an otherwise cacophonous mass of content.”

We all hate those cacophonous masses of content.

“Since I was working with emotional content an emotional classification system seemed a natural choice. And after reviewing a few different constructs, the Plutchik schema seemed to be the most natural and intuitive one. It allows for an infinite array of subtle emotional expression while still maintaining a simple and atomic foundation that worked very well for setting up a simple classification algorithm that would give the piece its randomness—its lacking sense of underlying order.”

Dude. What the hell are you talking about?

Sean Hathaway and Carlos Marcelin

“It was the music Carlos composed that really brought this part to life. I had originally intended to have a series of several five-minute-long background musical pieces to accompany the speech, but with the Plutchik scheme this rapidly evolved into a set of twenty-four one-minute pieces on a single theme that represent each of the twenty-four foundational emotions in the Plutchik schema.”

So it’s like a real-time play. But, I’m not sure how that differs from real life. Isn’t life a real time play, after all?

“The product is a generative installation that drifts about through whatever emotional states are most pervasive at any moment but presented as an endless stream of doglegging one minute sets where not only the content within the set is relational, but so is the underlying musical theme backing it up.”

Okay: it’s real life with a musical soundtrack, then. Obviously, Sean comes from an extensively hardwired electronics background, right?

“I didn’t have any experience with electronics in the beginning, but learned what I needed to in order to put the project together. My education is mainly scientific and technical in nature and I think that puts me at a slight advantage to be able to pick-up on new technical skills at a fairly rapid rate. Over the past few years, I have been greatly inspired by sources such as Make Magazine and that provide a venue for sharing knowledge and skills. There’s a growing collection of open-source software tools, and collective skill-sharing clubs.”

Stephen Hawking

Sean makes it sound like pretty much anybody could fill a room with inanimate teddy bears, make them talk, give them facial expressions and emotions culled from some bunch of guys “harvesting human feelings” and make it work in real time with an unusual music soundtrack in accompaniment. Really?

“It’s possible for any novice hobbyist or artist to do vacuum forming, 3D printing, physical computing or in my case designing a circuit board that could be sent to a fabrication shop for production. Just click a button to send the files, and two weeks later, you have a hundred circuit boards showing up in the mail ready for you and your friends to start soldering parts to. It really is an amazing time to be a maker of things.”

Vacuum forming? 3D printing? What’s “physical computing?” Circuit board design? You bet. Sounds like no big deal. Just make things. No problem. Run it. But, what does it all mean? What do all these emoting bears say about the human condition?

“To me the piece represents a celebration of a global level of human emotional expression that would not be possible without the technological age in which we live. These are tough questions. Our species is on a steppingstone of the evolving Information Age. Each of us has the ability to broadcast and share every part of our lives with nearly the entire world community. Like Dylan said, ‘ten thousand people talking but nobody listening’, but it’s really more like a billion people talking. I guess that’s a big part of what I was trying to say with this. I wanted to pull pieces of this collective state-sharing out of the void and give it a real presence and audience.”


Doesn’t it all seem sort of lonely and impersonal?

“Everything you hear in the installation is something that somebody somewhere in the world wanted you to hear. Right at this moment somebody in Montana has lost a love and someone in New Jersey has found one, and they want you to know about it. Isolation of one form or another is universal human truth. But how is that truth altered by such complete and intimate connectivity? That’s a question I ponder quite a bit when thinking about this installation.”

Well, the world has changed pretty dramatically over the past 20 years. There’s no denying that. It’s hard to say where it might go from here.

“I constantly contemplate the notion that my one-year-old daughter will never know a world where she can’t share how she feels about the bowl of soup she’s eating with people in New York, Paris, Bangkok or Tokyo—before it has a chance to get cold. But what does that mean exactly? Will anyone be listening or care? I do feel pride and a greater sense of connectivity to humanity knowing that when someone’s daughter somewhere in the world was pleased with her bowl of soup, for a small group of people on a Friday night in Portland, Oregon, that message was received loud and clear and for at least a moment acknowledged.”

Picture a darkened room, maybe about the size of your living room. On two adjacent walls eighty teddy bears are hung in neat rows, all linked by a network of thin wires. Suddenly a spotlight shines on one of the bears, and it opens its eyes, begins to move its lips and to speak, sounding a bit like Stephen Hawking. It expresses some vague feeling of distress in that robot-voiced monotone, then the spotlight is extinguished to light upon a different teddy, where the voice of, say, Australian Karen GPS lady conveys a gathering sense of anxiety. A British-voiced male teddy bear, like the Beatles’ “Number 9” guy, makes a brief, succinct statement and vanishes. HAL enters the scene and registers to any “Dave” his wary apprehensions. It’s a familiar cast of characters. The juxtaposition of cheery Ruxpin faces and morbid human sensibilities makes for a jarring experience among all who witness.

Meanwhile, Carlos Severe Marcelin’s cinematic soundtrack whirs and whines enigmatic dejection in one instance, orchestrates desperate symphonic alienation in others. The experience is very much like being inside a Luis Bunuel film, with Federico Fellini directing. Even though they are lifeless bears whose eyes and mouths are responding to mere electrical impulses, their sentiments are all too human, desperate for contact and intimacy. To stand among all those bears baring their souls—like a Ruxpin AA meeting—is a surprisingly wrenching encounter. Hypnotic. Haunting. It’s nearly impossible to walk away from the exhibit without having a visceral response.

Out in the vast expanse of world, at any moment, millions and millions of people are transmitting their impressions online, to be culled and categorized into segmented channels like an emotional Pachinko machine. It would never occur to anyone to think that their random introspections might be transformed into the script for two walls of talking teddy bears. But as Sean Hathaway said:

“For a small group of people on a Friday night in Portland, Oregon, that message was received loud and clear and for at least a moment acknowledged.”

Find me dimstricken. Where next? Okay, all right then, so what color would Sean be on the Plutchik wheel? What would his bear say?

“I would have a blue-green color [Surprise and Apprehension, perhaps?], and my bear would say: ‘I feel humbled that my work was as well received as it was’.

Laura Gibson

La Grande
Barsuk Records


It’s hard to believe it’s been almost three years since Laura Gibson’s last recording, Beasts of Seasons, was released. But it’s not as if she’s been sitting on her hands the whole time since then. Early in 2010 Laura collaborated with sound collagist Ethan Rose for the ethereal Bridge Carols. And she has toured relentlessly all across the US, with occasional forays into Europe and the UK.

In the Fall of 2010, she hooked up with Sean Lennon and his talentless model-girlfriend (Claudine Longet for a new generation—she makes Zooey Deschanel seem like Beverly Sills), Charlotte Kemp Muhl, for one of their Ghost of a Saber Tooth Tiger concerts in New York City. Then in January 2011 Laura toured as support for GOASTT with stops in Texas and up the West Coast. And in her spare time she has been busy retrofitting a vintage ’62 Shasta trailer into a mobile recording studio.

Mature and introspective, Gibson’s songs trace the rocky terrain of a barren landscape of hardscrabble insights strewn across escarpments of desolation, through thickets of despondency and despair. It’s not that depressing. There are some berries among the briars. But, she displays the sensibilities of a poet—the antique environmental emotionality of Emily Dickinson, the idiosyncratic tangle of a Plathian knit of knotted nets. Ultimately, however, Laura owes the inspiration of her poetic perceptions to no one.

While Beasts was produced by Tucker Martine (Decemberists, My Morning Jacket) for Portland’s Hush label, the new album is being released on Seattle’s Barsuk Records (early Death Cab, Mates of State, Menomena, John Vander Slice, and Nada Surf). It was produced by Calexico’s Joey Burns and bears many of that band’s subtle, more wistful, windblown properties. Every instrument placed with a purpose—even if that purpose is not always abundantly clear.

Burns makes a noble effort toward delicately emblazoning the rustic fabric of Laura’s scratchy voice with washes of color and layers of subtle texture without overwhelming the fragile qualities of her work. Her vocals at all times remain prominent in the mix, which in and of itself is quite a technical achievement given that most people talk louder than Laura sings. Production-wise, this album launches where the song “Spirited” left off on Beasts.

To that point, the title track rumbles in on a tight, snapping snare and a walloping, galloping rubbery tomtom sound that resembles Rolf Harris’ wobbleboard on “Tie Me Kangaroo Down.” Various random crashes, banshee-like guitar wails and creaking male backing vocals beamed in from another dimension flair and flicker in the mix. This is as close to a radio-friendly single that Laura has thus far concocted in her still nascent career.

“Milk-Heavy, Pollen-Eyed” is closer to what one has come to expect of a Laura Gibson recording. Her downy voice folds like eggwhite peaks upon sparse instrumentation: acoustic bass, vibes, clarinet and plaintive nylon string guitar. A pretty ballad with a lovely, lilting vocal melody.

Bossanova inflections pepper “Lion/Lamb,” with the piano sounding washed up on a beach and the clarinet as if the player were standing outside under a palm tree. Atmospheric—with Laura going all Astrud Gilberto on the vocals. It’s adventurous, and to be admired for that, but her voice, perhaps, isn’t so well suited for a Latin style of music as others might be. The prairie, corn whisking and wheat whistling beneath the summer sun, that’s Laura’s creative homeland. The audio version of the Andrew Wyeth painting, “Christina’s World.”

Take “Skin, Warming Skin” for instance. A sort of Joanna Newsome fairy magic pall floats over the simple acoustic guitar and Enya-like vocal theme, as mournful steel guitar moans in the distance. Very pleasing. The Victrolla, scratchy record quality of the Oh, Brother Where Art Thou flavored hymn, “The Rushing Dark,” may be using an effect that has already been used too much, but it’s a nice song and an absorbing arrangement.

The angelic groan Laura lends the magical “Red Moon” harkens to a time in the musical past that never actually existed, recreated only in pastiches such as this. It may be that this song is a distant cousin to Maria Muldaur’s “Midnight at the Oasis.” What is the word that defines the nostalgia for a time that never was? Here is the soundtrack for that feeling.

More akin in execution to material on Beasts, “Crow/Swallow” employs a simple reed section and French horn to create a Ralph Vaughan Williams-like sensibility behind Laura’s brittle vocals. Pastoral.

Meanwhile a nervous tambourine and a whining organ usher in “The Fire.” As Laura Cotten-picks and plucks her nylon string guitar, her supple Joni Mitchellish voice lulls and swales “Are you carried by the restless wind/Does it saddle you with brave ideas/With battle scars and souvenirs/To hang across your shoulder blades.”

Where a reference to Icarus seems to hover above that first verse and chorus, the imagery shifts through the second chorus “If you’re drawn to the flame/I cannot question your ways/If you’re drawn to the flame/Be not afraid of the fire.” Be not afraid of the fire sounds like something Sarah McLachlan might have said twenty years ago and should probably be permanently retired. It’s okay to say “Don’t be afraid of the fire.” People will still think you’re a poet. And the inexplicable, horrible, bashing snare smashes through the choruses in the back half of the song are truly ill-advised. Jawdroppingly distracting. Eek!

“Time is Not” is buffeted by little waves of far off sounds—availed of some sort of orchestral sensibility, sailing through the beautiful chorus propelled by breezy acoustic guitar, vibes, piano, and bubbling drums. Laura murmurs a gorgeously delicate melody. It might have been nice if the beguiling rhythm of that charming chorus would have leapt to the fore sooner. As it is, it does not take over until midway. A shorter version, an edit with mostly the uptempo half, would kill on radio or in a film. Here it simply takes too long for the song to fully spring to life. But it’s really great, all the same.

Finally, “Feather Lungs,” is accompanied by judicious piano, bass (no guitar), and segments of more “Oh, Brother…” siren calls. The poignant string section seems lifted almost directly from the National’s “About Today,” but is quite effective in this setting.

So, I don’t know about you, but I’m noticing this nautralistic sensual anima thing fluttering around in the song titles, lyrics and moods: “Milk-Heavy Pollen Eyed,” “Skin, Warming Skin,” “Lion/Lamb,” “Crow/Swallow,” “Feather Lungs.” Then there’s “The Fire,” “Red Moon,” “The Rushing Dark,” which amply cover atmospheric conditions. Georgia O’Keefe set to music. It makes for a distinctive thematic structure as to the goings on here, but one doesn’t wish to pry in subject matter so deeply personal and private.

This is a strange album, more strange than Beasts of Seasons, which was thematically a pretty strange album in its own right. It’s an uneven record. Producer Joey Burns, in an attempt to broaden her sonic palette, sometimes lards Laura Gibson’s tender, sensitive songs with unnecessary flotsam. One cannot change her music merely by adding gratuitous ornamentation.

In many instances, “LaGrande,” “The Rushing Dark,” “Red Moon,” “Skin, Warming Skin,” for example, that ornamentation works. But there are many places where the production seems plain wrong—wrong for the songs and wrong for the singer.

At some point, Laura Gibson will want to decide whether she wants to be the modern version of a torch singer, like a high-prairie Edith Piaf, or whether she would prefer to create confections more oriented to the pop market. She is obviously a very talented singer and songwriter. But thus far in her short career, no producer has given any indication that he really understands what to do with her quirky abilities.