Reviews

11:11

Author: Brian Fogarty
07/07/2005 | Exoduster.com | www.exoduster.com | Feature
Long the darling of the indie rock world with Azure Ray and Now It's Overhead, and numerous guest spots, Maria Taylor provides the world this tremendous gem of a debut solo record. Reflecting the tone of Azure Ray, 11:11 ups the melody ante and convinces you that you are in love with Taylor.
Brought up in a musical family, Taylor met up with her soon to be partner in crime Orenda Fink at the Alabama School of Fine Arts. Forming the pop rock Little Red Rocket, Taylor and Fink released a couple of records, relocated to Athens, GA, broke up LRR and began the somber acoustic-driven Azure Ray. In Athens, the duo also met up with Andy LeMaster and joined his Now It's Overhead and things went wild after that. Soon signing with Saddle Creek, Azure Ray and Now It's Overhead released records, toured all over the place and Taylor began collaborating on other artists' projects. This includes Bright Eyes' previous two records, the Faint's Wet From Birth and Moby's 18. In recent years, Taylor's appearances have risen astronomically to the point were it is odd NOT to have a Saddle Creek release with Taylor offering her warm vocals. There is little doubt that Taylor really began to understand songwriting from this collaborative work.
For 11:11 Taylor called in her favors to these other artists and the Saddle Creek family. In return, Taylor received the noteworthy help of Conor Oberst, Gretta Cohn of Cursive and LeMaster and Mike Mogis as both musicians and producers. Yet, this is only part of the help Taylor received. You also find Kim Salistean, Macey Taylor and Andrej Armstrong offering their talents. (Though I guess Fink collaborating would essentially be Azure Ray and so she is left off here).
With a similar feel to Azure Ray, but with a richer production job and concentration on melody and harmony, in addition to somber moments, 11:11 immediately piques your attention on the opener "Leap Year." "Leap Year" forces Taylor's quiet, soothing vocals in your face while strings and a drum machine keep the flow. LeMaster's backing vocals help rise the volume in Taylor's voice and sell "Leap Year" as a strong number. Yet, "Leap Year" merely sets you up the star of 11:11 - "Song Beneath the Song." While channeling the abilities of Oberst, Mogis and Cohn into Taylor's talents will likely produce a winner, "Song Beneath the Song" takes the loveliness to the next level. At higher tempo than most and bolstered by underlying muting guitar, Taylor and (later) Oberst take off on the chorus of "It's not love/It's not love/It's not love song." The only downside to Oberst's appearance is that he overpowers Taylor's soft vocals. If aren't infatuated with Taylor by this point then you are probably deaf anyway. Taylor brings things back to earth on the acoustic-driven, piano accentuated "Two of Those Too." Telling the tale of living in Athens and the communal feel, "Two of Those Too" is just a sweet, calm number. "Nature Song" finds Taylor's voice enhanced by minimal effects to maximize the appeal, but the song is only average. "Light House" trips along with nothing special until about a minute in where the pace is steepened and Taylor lyrics quickly fill the void. To demonstrate her electro-dance skills picked up from the Faint, Taylor and Mogis offer the beat-driven "One for the Shareholder." "One for the Shareholder" is a song that you could see become a top forty pop hit with an overdone major label production job; let's hope that doesn't happen (not that we don't want Taylor and Mogis to be rocking the cash). "Xanax" is another detached number with a flailing guitar, but comes around sneakily with several incredibly catchy lines sprinkled throughout (I suppose, aka, the chorus). "Xanax" is the type of song where you have to work for it to pay off for you. Taylor looks for some twang on the childhood locale of "Birmingham 1982," which unflinching moves you along to the sound of Taylor pushing her voice, organs and Rhodes piano. In terms of an even and consistent number, "Birmingham 1982" is up among the best on 11:11. The sound of "Speak Easy" clearly reflects its name with an old-fashioned folk feel highlighted by banjo. 11:11 closes on the stunner "Hitched," which begins ordinarily enough with Taylor's vocals, pianos and organs, but quickly moves to sensational towards the end. Oh, did I mention how awesome "Song Beneath the Song" is? I just played it again to feel the goosebumps.
As her debut solo record, Maria Taylor strikes indie gold on 11:11. If you have any inclination of enjoying Azure Ray or Bright Eyes or if you are wondering who is doing backing vocals on all those Saddle Creek release then this is the perfect record for you. 11:11 was released in late May and that I haven't seen is scorching the charts is a great shame. Get in on this while you still can.
11:11

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