Author: Broden Terry
8/14/11 | Absolutepunk.net | www.absolutepunk.net | Record Review
It's early December of 2010, Maria Taylor has just completed her duties as one half of the newly reunited Azure Ray, and they're beginning to wind down and bring their constant touring schedules to a temporary standstill. Unbeknownst to anyone, when it came to her solo musical endeavor, Maria Taylor hadn't written a single song in well over twelve months, and one can only imagine the overwhelming doubt and sense of anxiety that Taylor as a songwriter must have been feeling at such a vulnerable and insecure point in her largely successful career. Almost out of sheer determination she locked herself up in isolation with pen poised within her bedroom for days in succession in an attempt to overcome invisible writing barriers; and so it continued until she found inspiration in asking herself the question of which direction she saw her life heading towards. This candid honesty translated flawlessly into her lyrics and before she knew it, she had written arguably the album highlight well before thoughts were even being directed towards what would eventually become her latest full-length, Overlook, the beautiful and haunting "Happenstance". What was initially perceived to be a momentary burst of inspiration soon turned into a free flowing two week writing session in which all nine tracks that made it onto the album were created. The result is quite possibly Taylor's finest and most absorbing release to date.Whereas LadyLuck, Maria Taylor's third full-length, was written about the topic of change and having the courage to start over, Overlook appears at the least from the outside looking in to be a record that deals with the question of where to go from there onwards. It's a direct progression of sorts, and instead of reflecting on the past, this is a record that questions what the future holds for Maria Taylor as a musician, and perhaps more significantly, what the future holds for her as a person. The record opens with "Masterplan", complete with a simmering introduction full of thunderous drums, rhythm guitar, and soaring keys. The tempo starts quietly in the opening two minutes, but thereafter it gradually builds in momentum to feature heavy, spontaneous drum, bass and snare beats. The urgent instrumentation makes for an uplifting atmosphere as Taylor sings with gentle conviction "do you have a masterplan? / can the heart crumble while devotion stands? / and what makes the better man?" whilst being accompanied by accordion flourishes and subtle traces of glockenspiel. "Matador" continues the surprisingly rock oriented start to the record by implementing distorted guitar solos and prominent xylophone beats throughout the latter portion of the track's four minute duration. It certainly has a noticeable sultry pop strut that exudes confidence and attitude, and that charming playfulness gives "Matador" a dance vibe and lovely sing-along quality.Arguably the biggest departure from the usual soft, slow-tempo retrospective numbers that Taylor has previously made her trademark, the country and folk inspired "Bad Idea?", shows the unexpected diversity that can be heard throughout Overlook. There's prominent banjos, beautiful mandolins, high rising falsetto harmonies, and even the assistance of male backing vocalists providing a pleasant interplay during the choruses with Taylor crooning, "What if I turn forty-nine with no husband in mind? / well I guess there's just a glitch in my design". The lyrics may not be overly complicated or original, but they're often written cleverly so as to evoke storytelling elements upon the listener, whilst all the while maintaining the theme of looking forward into what the future may potentially hold.Despite the focus on experimentation and the upbeat nature of Overlook as a whole, it's no surprise to notice that Taylor is at her best, finest and most memorable when she slows the overall tempo of the songs down, as songs such as "Happenstance", "Idle Mind" and "Like It Does" exemplify. The former is an acoustic guitar driven ballad that utilizes prominent echoing vocal effects during the opening verses. However, the redeeming quality that keeps listeners coming back is in the sheer beauty and elegance of its chorus. The harmonies are gorgeous, the melodies are lovely, Taylor's vocals cascade with vulnerability, and it culminates in a mesmerizing two and a half minute listen. Likewise, "Idle Mind" captures a solemn, cinematic atmosphere due to graceful piano notes and finger picking guitar techniques. The dual layered harmonies are stunning throughout the most beautiful chorus you're likely to hear on the record with Taylor's vocals hauntingly weaving in and out of the mix as she sings, "In my idle mind, I'm closer to you". Her words are wounding, direct and piercingly honest, but yet they're delivered so tenderly which captures a compelling element. The album closes with "This Could Take A Lifetime" and "Along For the Ride", two lovely tracks that seamlessly blend into one. Sweeping strings and violins set the scene for a pleasant and thoroughly absorbing listen.Overlook is a far more ambitious and experimental release that will undoubtedly see Maria Taylor performing these very tracks to an entirely new and unsuspecting audience, but it's also not drastically different enough from her previous works to alienate her existing fanbase. Some may find negatives in that the vocals can too often be cautious, timid and restrained - but if you come into this release with expectations to hear soaring vocals then you're likely to leave slightly disappointed. The record as a whole can also be considered repetitive during certain phases in that it never deviates from the standard verse, bridge and chorus template the songs strictly follow. However, the instrumentation is luscious and variable, the harmonies are wonderful, the lyrics are solid and compelling for the most part, and with such a lovely blend of slower and up-tempo tracks to choose from, Overlook is something you definitely don't want to do in regards to what might just be considered Maria Taylor's finest solo effort to date.