17 September 2018 (released)
There is value in a good long stare. Whether it's from a log on the beach staring into the vastness of the ocean or through a kitchen window at a city skyline, clutching a cup of coffee. The time you take getting lost in that kind of zen moment can provide you peace, clarity, creativity and yes, loneliness but in a positive way that humbles a mind constantly jockeying for position. Artistic inspiration lives in this kind of space. Getting lost in an iPhone has the opposite effect. It's the killer of patience, openness, contemplation, and imagination. They may offer an app for meditation these days but finding yourself in this unobstructed space comes not from tuning in but from dropping out.
The debut album from San Fransisco songstress, Laura Paragano feels like a good long stare from a place of unencumbered contemplation. That's not to say the protagonist doesn't have her share of dalliances and distractions, alluded to in the album's title, Strange Curses. There is definitely passion and emotion deeply woven throughout the album. It's just that the lyrics, the music, the effects, and the mixing all suggest a sense of space and reflection.
The guitars and vocals are steeped in a generous amount of reverb throughout the whole record, although it never seems like an exaggeration. Never quite slipping into psych territory, it keeps the album on the edge of a memory, wistful yet light enough to be carried away by an ocean breeze. The swaying slide guitar that eases in the opener 'Out For a Surf' echoes the far-off cry of gulls from the seashore. Paragano's voice is firm but light. Emboldened but not stubborn. She rests the tune on the light metaphor of a surfer. Nothing overly complicated but a striking image to pair with a story of a breezy relationship.
The single '3/4' muses about the wee hours of the night when thoughts trump sleep. The swaying, sleepy refrain further delves into this narrative of rumination, this time picking out the tortures of getting stuck in a thought. The band tastefully scores her meditations with a lone trumpet joining her mansions of thought.
There are moments when she turns to scorn like 'Juliet, Romeo' and the closer 'Doom/Strange Curses'. Her voice takes on a dive-bomb swoop as the drums rise up out of their previous passive support to echo Paragano's emotion. The timbre of her voice finds a curious and enthralling mix between Fiona Apple and Florence Welch of + the Machine fame.
Strange Curses has an enchanting quality about it, in a sombre way. The lofty and seemingly infinite stretches of the West Coast have made quite an impact on this Jersey girl. The way the songs seem to drift by reminds us of the importance of stopping for a good stare every once in a while.