Zoe Keating: One Cello X 16: Natoma

One Cello X 16: Natoma was the debut solo release from former Rasputina cellist Zoë Keating. Keating recently appeared on Who Killed Amanda Palmer? and will also be heard in the score of the new movie The Secret Life of Bees. Every sound on Zoë’s own album was played on acoustic cello, then looped and repeated to flesh out the arrangements. Even the percussive sounds were simply made by knocking, brushing, or tapping the body of the cello. Keating calls the technique “layered cello” and her musical style “avant cello”. She manages to evoke as many different noises from one instrument as Xavier Rudd does from a multi-instrumental platform.

“Legions (war)” ebbs and flows with quiet foreboding, while “Fern” is performed in more a classical style with a few haunting flourishes. “Frozen Angels” is a gentle, melancholy hum that conjures up wintry images.

The darker “Tetrishead” stands out most. It is the rare instrumental that is so dramatic and multifarious, it would sound as brilliant with vocals (of the PJ Harvey variety).

Some of the songs are far too lengthy for the short span my attention has for instrumentals, but the concept of using one cello for so many effects is very interesting and each piece is impeccably performed.

Zoë Keating – Tetrishead (mp3 expired)

Zoë Keating Official Site

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Amanda Palmer: Who Killed Amanda Palmer?

Amanda Palmer of The Dresden Dolls will release her debut solo effort Who Killed Amanda Palmer? (title inspired by Twin Peaks) on September 16th. Palmer’s original concept was of a simple piano and voice collection recorded in her bedroom within one week, but the arrival of producer Ben Folds brought the recording to a proper studio and transformed it into a slicker project embellished with string and orchestral arrangements. Folds contributes backing vocals, keyboards, and percussion to the album, while Rasputina’s Zoë Keating provides cello. Members of The Dead Kennedys and St. Vincent also make cameos. The album apparently contains liner notes written by graphic novelist Neil Gaiman, but the advance disc I received did not have any of the artwork.

Still I always shock them when I answer
“Hi, my name’s Amanda”
I’m not going to live my life on one side of an ampersand
Even if I went with you, I’m not the girl you think I am

Amanda names the opener as her “hands-down favorite” song on the album as well as the track that most represents her current songwriting style. “Astronaut” is initially driven by the thunderous force of Palmer’s piano before her somber alto slides in for the quiet opening verse. Then the chorus explodes into a soaring pop melody plumped up with whirring strings and clanging cymbals.

The hyperactive, atmospheric “Runs in the Family” is my personal favorite on the album. It’s an older song that I believe Amanda wrote during the “Girl Anachronism”/”Half Jack” era, and it definitely sounds more like a Dresden Dolls piece than the rest. The Dolls association may be why Palmer hesitated to put the song on the album, but fortunately Ben Folds convinced her to include it.

It sounds like Folds whispering “manda” at the beginning of “Ampersand”, but I can’t say for certain. The ballad features some lovely piano work, and perhaps Palmer’s most heartfelt vocal performance. To be honest, I didn’t like it much the first time I heard it. Amanda’s deep voice is not the easiest fit for so soft a song. But the second time around, something in the song – the intimate lyrics I suppose, maybe the surprising vulnerability in her voice – clicked with me and it’s since become another favorite.

“Leeds United” is the first single from the new disc, a slinky punk stunner built around a marching band chorus and Palmer’s spatial raspings. The tune was recorded spontaneously during the Edinburgh Fringe Festival with a group of local Scottish horn players. The chilling “Strength Through Music” is a sparse piano ballad originally inspired by and written during the aftermath of Columbine, but Amanda did not record the song until those memories were reawakened by the recent Virginia Tech shootings.

The quiet is quickly ripped back open by the swaggering “Guitar Hero” (featuring guest East Bay Ray of The Dead Kennedys), a cynical ode to the video game and its addicts in which Palmer finally lets her wail go. St. Vincent‘s Annie Clark lends her operatic soprano to the tinkling duet of Carousel’s “What’s The Use of Wondrin”.

The advance disc I received lists “Oasis” as track ten, but it’s been called “Melissa Mahoney” elsewhere. I think the latter title is the true one, though both phrases are in the song’s lyrics. Either way, Palmer refers to it as “a pop song about abortion”. “The Point of it All” is a heartier ballad that accentuates the more elegant tone of Amanda’s voice, while the pretty piano melody “Another Year” serves as the album’s wistful finale.

Amanda Palmer – Runs in the Family (mp3) (removed at label’s request after permission granted by artist’s manager…the trials of legal blogging)

Amanda Palmer MySpace
The Dresden Dolls Official Site

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