wears the trousers magazine

leona naess: thirteens (2009)
May 21, 2009, 1:15 pm
Filed under: album, review, video | Tags: , , ,


Leona Naess
Thirteens ••••

Coming some eight months after its Stateside release, the UK edition of Leona Naess’s fourth studio album Thirteens atones for its tardiness with all-new artwork and two previously unreleased bonus tracks. The same soft and delicate balladry remains, however, picking up where 2003’s eponymous third album left off. This time, Naess’s unhurried introspection arose out of the tragic death of her father in a mountaineering accident, and Thirteens is comprised of emotional first-takes that were then overdubbed with the performances of her guest musicians.

Opener ‘Ghosts In The Attic’ sets the tone for the rest of the album with its acoustic guitar-based foundation subtly coloured by an airy arrangement and appropriately ghostly background vocals. Gentle, relaxed and supremely pretty, it recalls some of Jane Siberry’s more romantic acoustic songs. Lyrically, Naess expertly strikes the balance between evocative poetry (“could be the story I’ve been reading makes me dream this way / I’ve got on all the lights on in the kitchen to keep the ghouls at bay”) and personal detail (“I’ve got your pictures and stories and those t-shirts with no sleeves”). The pace picks up on the instantly memorable ‘Leave Your Boyfriends Behind’, which benefits from a catchy and jaunty chorus with a more forceful rhythm section providing interesting time signature shifts that boost the lilting melody. ‘Learning As We Go’ is beautifully woozy and intense, graced with a jazzier vocal delivery and an arrangement that blooms as the song progresses. ‘Not The Same Girl’ acts as a similarly jazzy sequel, with subtle strings buried in the mix.

Essentially, Thirteens has two distinct gears, shifting back and forth between wispy, airy ballads and jauntier pop-inspired numbers. ‘Unnamed’ fits into the latter category as a deceptively straightforward pop song with the bittersweet lyric “Take my songs, they’re always about you / Been so crazy, still here without no love,” while ‘Shiny On The Inside’ is an infectious gem that drafts in handclaps to enliven its arrangement. The bluesy ‘Lipstick Song’ shows off Naess’s diversity while staying snugly inside the understated sound that pervades the record. ‘Swing Gently’ continues the downbeat pace of most of the album, but the use of strings, harmonium, and a slightly off-kilter melody creates a mellifluous piece that stands as one of the album’s dreamiest and richest songs. Last year’s surprise radio hit ‘Heavy Like Sunday’ pares the arrangement down to voice and guitar before blooming into a subtly coloured jewel of a song, while ‘When Sharks Attack’ is simply gorgeous from the outset, its descending piano hook complemented by glockenspiels and strings. Where the original album ended with the hypnotic and introspective ‘On My Mind’, we get the boozy ballad ‘Danke Schoen’ and a more atmospheric “mellow version” of ‘Unnamed’ – both are a worthy addition.

What may initially appear dull and relentlessly slow develops, with repeated listening, into a warm and hypnotic album that works as a full cohesive piece as much as a collection of soft gems. Naess’s vocals are deceptively versatile, slipping from the romantic feminine tones of songs like ‘Not The Same Girl’ to the jazzier leanings of ‘Learning As We Go’. Thirteens is a beautifully produced record full of exquisite arrangements that deserve investigation. It may take a number of listens to work its magic, but Naess and co-writer/producer Samuel Dixon have crafted something quite sublime.

Matt Barton
UK release date: 11/05/09; www.myspace.com/leonanaess



‘Heavy Like Sunday’



3 Comments so far
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Beautifully produced? C’mon bro it sounds like it was mostly recorded in a bedroom (and was). Leona’s got some pretty pipes though. And these are her best songs yet.

Comment by Chuck

[…] – Sara Watkins [Alex Ramon ] 25 Nouvelle Vague – 3 [Martyn Clayton 19/6] 26 Leona Naess – Thirteens [Matthew Barton 21/5] 27 Wildbirds & Peacedrums – The Snake [Charlotte Richardson Andrews […]

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[…] [4/5] 78 Tara Jane O’Neil – A Ways Away [4/5; interview] 77 Leona Naess – Thirteens [4/5] 76 Gabby Young & Other Animals – We’re All In This Together [4/5] 75 Speech Debelle […]

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