Monday, April 27th, 2009

Maia Hirasawa – South Again

Quirky Swede. Yes, another one…


Iain Mew: I have a soft spot for Maia mainly thanks to her work with Hello Saferide (that’s her on the lump-in-the-throat ending to “Parenting Never Ends”, which affected me like nothing else in 2008). “South Again” is great in its own right though, a perfectly captured snapshot of frustration adorned with pirrouetting strings and whipcrack percussion. That it has the confidence to end so soon, message imparted, makes it all the more tempting to play again right away.

Jonathan Bradley: “South Again” begins light, with fanciful Owen Pallett-gone-Nordic arrangements, but it settles heavy in its refrain. “It’s not that I don’t love you, I’m so sorry,” Hirasawa sings with a resigned sigh, “but I’m happier somewhere else.” The flighty turbulence of her verse resolves into a deep and straightforward sorrow that cognizant diversions over geography and piano-playing cannot salve. If this were merely quirky, it would be intolerable, but Hirasawa finds a bit of emotional tug in the slowly ebbing strings to anchor her musical whimsy.

Hazel Robinson: A bloody awful mess with no apparent tune but lots of posturing, whose constituent parts all seem innocent of their involvement, bar the fuck-awful cutesy singing.

Martin Skidmore: I like the foregrounded strings on this, but they barely hold together a quirky confusion of a track, which sounds like a few different songs stitched together rather unconvincingly.

Erika Villani: Manages to escape hooklessness by just being a hook, as Maia conflates restlessness in a relationship with wanderlust, over instruments that can’t seem to settle down either: running keys and staccato strings, thunderous drums, handclaps. When it finally gives way to apologies and softness and shimmering cymbals, it’s just a parting gift: she may do her best here in the west, but she’s already told us her heart is everywhere else.

Ian Mathers: This has a nicely compact structure, and very well used instrumentation; most songs that use piano, strings and upright bass sound more offputtingly showy than “South Again” does. And as befitting an Hello Saferide associate, she takes a lyrical conceit that ought to be annoying and makes it kind of work. But while Hirasawa avoids any major mistakes, she also doesn’t hit any real highs – “South Again” feels a bit like it’s still looking for a chorus, or maybe a point.

Rodney J. Greene: The Casio tinkle and Hirasawa’s terrible phrasing suck, but the the way this song keeps building up to and breaking down from gargantuan nothings is beyond irksome.

Michaelangelo Matos: College-radio art-pop as a species of formula as by-the-numbers as any “ft. Akon” track you want to name.

Dave Moore: For a song that’s essentially about goofing off, this one’s intense — a precisely layered tango, you can hear the bow against the cello strings and the resonance of the plucked bass. At some point underwater drums and lingering cymbals add a percussive roll, and above it all Hirasawa channels the angst of a much less frivolous song. The whole thing combines into a series of delightful micro-moments of that restless search for happiness Elsewhere, the insistent ticking of time hovering constantly as you soak in the countryside, play around on someone else’s piano, all with the nagging feeling that you should be doing something else — somewhere else — that’s more important. Home is where the heart is, but sometimes you’re sick of “heart” and you wanna go look at cows. (Maybe she and her boyfriend need to go to a bed and breakfast for a few days.)

David Raposa: Feist-y as all get-out, “South Again” manages to squeeze a lot into its 135 seconds, including some spry piano, whirling-dervish strings, hand claps, a little faux-drum bashing (quirky!), and even some crass production shenanigans — dig how those scratchy double-tracked vocals in the verses get the 70MM soft-focus close-up on the chorus! The only thing missing from this track is more of it. With no space or room for anything to breathe, the song sounds remarkably claustrophobic. Given Hirasawa is singing about being anywhere but where she is, I’m sure this effect is intentional, and it’s a remarkable marriage of form and function. But the ultimate result of this admirable attention to detail is a track that I appreciate more than I actually enjoy.

Hillary Brown: Perhaps the equivalent of an oompa loompa in its shortness and strangeness, Maia Hirasawa’s song swoops around with Bjorky disregard for conventional song structure, but it’s oddly pleasant to listen to nonetheless.

Martin Kavka: I respect what Hirasawa’s trying to do in this song. She’s acting on a belief that authenticity is equivalent to sonic roughness, and so we get badly overtracked vocals, a string line that verges on scratchiness. She’s happier somewhere else than pop. Unfortunately, I doubt that there are other people there, and so her goal ironically seems to be to live in a vacuum.

Alex Ostroff: Swedish singer tangos her way through sweeping strings and plinkety pianos, heart torn between her lover and anywhere else. The vocals are affected and twee, somewhere in between Sarah Slean and Nelly McKay. Hirasawa has enough melodrama to pull it off adequately, but not enough power to avoid being submerged by the arrangement, which is gorgeous, fragile and seductive in equal measures. Despite insightful lyricism, it never quite gels with the music. A more dominating singer, like Shakira, could do, and has done, this style better.

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