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Martina Topley-Bird: Some Place Simple *

Album Reviews:

Uncut (magazine) (p.104) - 4 stars out of 5 -- "[P]ast masters such as 'Poison' and 'Lying' are radically reborn around smacking percussion and her endlessly expressive voice."

Album Notes

Martina Topley-Bird's Some Place Simple follows the release of her dynamite 2008 Danger Mouse-produced Blue God full-length by two years. That said, this set wasn't planned. She was actually approached by Damon Albarn who suggested recording stripped-down versions of songs from both her albums (the other is her 2003 debut, Quixotic) for his Honest Jon's imprint. What's more interesting is that the production on both of those recordings -- which were wildly different from one another -- was far from excessive. Nonetheless, Topley-Bird took Albarn up on his offer, and stripped her songs to the bone, completely recontextualizing her melodies. Some Place Simple is driven by minimal instrumentation on each of its 15 tracks. Other than her melodies, her approach is unique, even riveting. One need go no further than the album's opening cut, "Baby Blue," which uses a ukulele and a keyboard imitating a glockenspiel to illuminate her vocals. Electric piano and skeletal synth lines provide a counter melody between verses on "Phoenix," which is also lightly kissed by a kick drum and a tambourine. The electric piano and hand-drum loops on "Lying" make it so poignant the listener is tempted to hold her breath throughout its three minutes-and-49 seconds. Other highlights include the sparse, skittering, near-raga of "Intro" and "Sandpaper Kisses," with Claire Nicholson's approximation of Duane Eddy's sound. Then there's the swinging, fingerpopping dread heat of "Too Tuff to Die" with its heavily distorted electric guitar EFX and tom-toms. "Poison" is wildly exotic despite its musical economy: Topley-Bird's expressive vocal is accompanied only by Eastern (Near, Middle, and Far)-flavored percussion. That said, these song sketches provide a much deeper look into Topley-Bird's keen and original sense of melodic invention far more than her previous offerings, and display her ability to get the maximum from her limited vocal range. Some Place Simple is a delightful -- and sometimes astonishing -- surprise. ~ Thom Jurek



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