Review by Leverett Butts
Nicola Dixon (vocals) and Ian Schaefer (music)
Risky does not sound like a self-produced debut album of an independent band, and that makes sense because Nicola Dixon (vocals) and Ian Schaefer (music) are not debut musicians. While A Private Press formed about two years ago, the two have been performing together since the 1990’s in two other bands (In fact, Jesse Lundy, who played with them in their first band The Fontanelles, is a guest artist on their song “The Paris of the South”).
And their experience shows on this album. Its tracks feel far more balanced in tone and theme than many debut “indie” albums, which often seem like a hodgepodge of songs written with the specific intent of getting “enough” tracks together to make an album. Risky’s songs, however, seem to naturally flow together, regardless of the order in which they are played (I’m a big fan of my ipod’s “shuffle” function). They work well together because, unlike other debut albums, Risky’s songs seem to belong together.
This is not to say that these songs sound the same. Schaefer’s music has range, and this allows him to fine tune his music to Dixon’s words. In “Unknown Numbers,” for instance, Dixon’s depiction of the dread that comes with the vaguely threatening phone calls of collection agencies, Schaefer’s Spanish tinged jazz works perfectly to evoke images of rain-soaked private dicks closing in on their delinquent prey. Similarly, the almost country twang of his guitar in “The Specialist” foreshadows the inevitable break-up that will result from consulting a sub-par couples’ therapist.
Schaefer’s music, however, can only go so far. Dixon’s vocals are great. Her voice is clear, and more importantly, she has mastered the difficult art of enunciating while singing, making her lyrics easy to follow (a quality sorely lacking in too many bands). As a writer, I am just as impressed with her lyrics. She claims that her goal is to write lyrics about things she’s not heard anyone else singing about, so you’re not going to find much in the way of love songs here except possibly in sub-text, and even then, if “Adler” is any indication, expect a more realistic portrayal of love than the bubblegum standards commercial radio subjects us to: “Everybody says we’re perfect for each other / That’s because it’s perfect when / Everything’s applauded / Everything’s on camera / And we’re not in the cab home yet.”
In lieu of love songs, Dixon manages to take the minutiae of modern life and elevate them into four minute metaphors for the human condition worthy of the most eminent modern poets: from the overabundance of technology in songs like “Designed to Drift” and “There’s No Getting Away” to a trip to the doctor in “Risky” to the white lies we tell others and ourselves in “A Joke about Vegas.”
The band cites artists such as Low, Neko Case, and Kirsty MacColl as influences. Others have compared their sound to the Cowboy Junkies and Joni Mitchell. Personally, I hear a lot of Sandy Denny and a bit of Julee Cruise, but that’s academic. A Private Press sounds most like A Private Press: jazzy, dreamy, good.
Risky is available as a cd or download quite literally everywhere: iTunes, Amazon, Barnes & Noble, or you can buy it from the distributor or directly from the band cdbaby or APrivatePressMusic.com. Buy it. Listen to it, and listen again. You will not regret it.