Behold, as Maxwell gives a high score to #AMERICANA…
Jer Fairall: Skewing far more toward Neko and Laura’s spectral Americana than k.d.’s reverent formalism, “Atomic Number” nevertheless benefits greatly from the contrast provided by lang’s lower register, particularly in light of how the side-by-side placement of the other two singers only highlights their vocal similarities. It is to the detriment of the least famous member of the trio–odd, perhaps, given that her husband is the producer–that her softer voice threatens to get lost underneath Case’s unmistakable presence, an imbalance I can only hope will not recur on the upcoming album. Strictly as a composition, though, this is graceful and haunting, mixing folk storytelling tradition with rueful feminist protest (“why are the wholesome things the ones we make obscene?”) and an oblique chorus that sits like a knot in the centre, leaving it all so fittingly unresolved. The instrumentation–spooky/beautiful acoustic guitar arpeggios, a mournful sweep of violin, drums so underplayed they’re barely there–strikes the right balance between lush and unsettled.
Edward Okulicz: It’d be churlish to complain that on a track with the voices of Neko Case and kd lang, whom I adore, and Laura Veirs, whom I liked last time I remembered she existed (Year of Meteors), the highlight is a violin figure. So I’ll just be grateful for three lovely voices and one elegant, thoughtful bit of songwriting. The contrast between lang’s voice and Case’s and Veirs’ is a bit underused, but it’s hard to see how an album full of this could possibly fail.
Alfred Soto: I can’t deny the string arrangement: whirling melodic passages worthy of Paul Bruckmeister. And I treasure the first verse, the three singers exchanging lines. The mix adds unnecessary echo. Here’s hoping these three create a Trio or Traveling Wilburys Volume One for the new millennium.
Maxwell Cavaseno: The least likely kid to bump “Constant Craving” out of Jamaica, Queens has no real reference case for the understood “significance” of such a combination of ladies harmonizing; so I have to ditch the backgrounds and reputations, and sort through what’s landed from the drift. The simple backbeat has a grave tone, making the stoic melodrama solid and sturdy, while the voices link together and press against the chorus with fortitude. There’s an esoteric quality to both the alchemical nature of the lyrics but also the unity of this trio playing off the separate personalities resonating through their voices. To have such stirring performers depart on so brief a song feels like all too brief a moment, but a most promising gesture to the possible power within this temporal unit.
Brad Shoup: I like it cos it sounds like Jars of Clay — that pensive endless acoustic figure, the laconic dulcimer strikes, the talking string rejoinders — and I love it because it’s protest music.
Cassy Gress: A starry soundscape so expansively unfurled that it could have lasted several more minutes. When was the last time anyone equated female purity and wholesomeness with the geometric perfection of a chemical element? I don’t believe this is meant to be parsed as a paean to virginity or moral rectitude; it’s a simple statement of deep-seated strength.
Katherine St Asaph: The balance of crunchy, soaring and wistful that’s eluded me (so far, pending further listening) in any of these women’s solo work, on the sort of song that might tempt one to spiral one’s listening off into a year or more of only this sound.