Rachel Taylor Brown - Susan Storm's Ugly Sister and Other Saints and Superheroes
Record Label: Cutthroat Pop Records
Release Date: July 7, 2009
Portland-based singer-songwriter Rachel Taylor Brown isn't ashamed of her unconventional approach to piano-based songwriting. On 2008's Half Hours with the Lower Creatures she crafted an album of witty, comical songs that tackled religious subjects and the curious underpinnings of human nature, and did so in a way that was eccentric and highly memorable.
On her latest album, Susan Storm's Ugly Sister and Other Saints and Superheroes, she tackles the innerworkings of the human psyche and analyzes the lives of comic book superheroes, fictitious siblings and a variety of historical saints, in an effort to dissect the vagaries of life and the shortcomings of mankind. An admitted comic book geek, Taylor Brown has said she dove into Marvel's Spiderman and The Fantastic Four at a young age, often times devoting weekends to read through a four-foot high stack. Her interest in saints however, began much later, while taking art history classes in college. Said fascination still continues to this day.
On her fourth creative effort, the music moves from cabaret-like chamber ballads ("Susan Storm's Ugly Sister", "Lonely Galactus, The World Eater") to buoyant, arena-ready piano rockers ("Ambush Bush/Reduviidae," "Zoe of Rome"), that's undeniably off-kilter, disturbing and yet absolutely gorgeous. Her lyrics are mostly dark and icy, as evidenced by the sinister confessional of the title track, "I could go undercover, I could slip your mind, I could kill you and you wouldn't notice me." Other times she's overtly religious and somber, "Teresa Benedicta also Edith Stein traded Manischewitz for the bloody wine, took the veil, took the cross, died on an August night in Auschwitz," from "Teresa Benedicta Also Edith Stein."
Her most commercial and probably most ingenious song on the release is "Bruce Wayne's Bastard Son," a repetitive, hypnotic and mildly disturbing take on the lecherous habits of one of DC Comic's most famous figures. Equally as impressive is the buoyant gem "Zoe of Rome, " a vernal eulogy to an underappreciated historical figure, who, as Brown narrates, "was hung from a tree by her hair."
Not content to just sit behind her piano and pine, Taylor Brown kicks up the energy on the urgent and angry Alanis-like romp "St. Fina," which has a bombastic and propulsive fire to it that makes for a compelling, head-turning listen. And yet that same visceral pulse can be tamed down in the Neil Young-like ballad "Giovanni Bernardone (St. Francis)," a quiet, reflective meditation that seems tailor made for a church service or monastery.
The brilliance of her music is that piano-based songwriting can often times be formulaic, trite and uninspiring, and what she has done for four consecutive albums is anything but. Her music is daring, fearless and chilling, and even sometimes catchy. Aided by longtime friend and co-producer Jeff Stuart Saltzman (Stephen Malkmus, Sleater Kinney, Menomena), Susan Storm is a refreshing and welcome listen and reveals a cerebral, free-thinking talent that isn't afraid to take chances and stir things up a bit. Somewhere, somehow John Lennon is smiling.