Friday, July 18, 2008

Earotica: Cheekbone Hollows (Pop. 1/2 Life)-The Child Ballads Review

Don't get me wrong, I love mp3s: they don't clutter up your living room like CDs, they're easier to travel with as many of them fit on one's small Ipod, and they don't skip when you hit a bump in a car. The downside of mp3 though is that you miss out on the cover art which can, at times, provide insight into the songs or the artist (or sometimes even make you some money).

Interesting cover art can also be the thing that gets you to listen to a disc if the artist is unknown to you, which is exactly what happened to me a few days ago when the The Child Ballads newest EP called Cheekbone Hollows (Pop. 1/2 Life) arrived in a package with eight or so other CDs. It was the first one I opened, and why? Because of this printed on the back cover:

I bought a white chocolate tea in the park on my lunchbreak
I bought a painting off the street of a haunted lake.
I tried hard to make my world an exciting place.
But I keep hearing talk of the doom,
And they're sending the meek home.
And that's not half as bad as the shadow
That's caught in the hollow of your cheekbone.

Wow-to-the-za. Then I played it and man, the music inside was just as good. Like it's been on constant-repeat good.

Briefly, "Cheekbone Hollows" is a bluesy toe-tapping lo-fi version of Lord Byron poetry. Which is all perfectly logical if you know that lead singer/acoustic guitar player Stewart Lupton a) was previously the lead singer for the critics' darlings and direct influencer of The Strokes Jonathan_Fire*Eater, and b) returned to DC after the dissolution of JFE, enrolled in George Washington University, landed the Lannan Poetry Fellowship, and studied poetry, medieval studies, and modern art history. Lupton's baritone voice reminds me of Marc Bolan posing as an Exile on Main Street-era Mick Jagger, all sputtering with smoldering bravado and bad-boy grittiness. Sprinkled throughout most of the songs on this 6-track EP are the three powerful v's of co-vocalist Betsy Wright (viola, violin, and vocals), whose trifecta of pretty perfectly counters the primary grungier sound surrounding her. Much like a daisy springing up through the cracks in a concrete jungle, you don't expect to see something like that thriving there but you can't help being struck by it.

Much like the collection of ballads and lullabies that share their name, the tracks on Lupton's version sing of love and salvation (lots of salvation), ghosts and loneliness, but with a much hipper sound that will strike your core. "Cheekbone Hollows" has been available in the UK since '06 but just came out in the US earlier this summer. So check out the CD version or the mp3 version, but just make sure you check it out.

Download: Green Jewelry-The Child Ballads
Cheekbone Hollows-The Child Ballads

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