Dear Reader – Idealistic Animals
Allow me to begin with a personal anecdote, if I may. It’s not like me to admit things like this so openly (not that I have a problem with the admission itself), but it’s rather relevant to the album I’m reviewing, and it’s this: I don’t believe in any form of god. I’ve been an atheist for more than four years at this stage, and the story behind ‘Idealistic Animals’ struck a chord with me. I can draw plenty of parallels between my own experiences and those that led Cheri MacNeil, alias Dear Reader, to lose her faith.
There is nothing quite like the feeling a journalist gets when an album affects them on a personal level. It’s happened maybe three or four times since I started writing in 2009, but the connection I made with ‘Idealistic Animals’ was perhaps the most unexpected of all. This is quite fitting when one considers the unconventional nature of MacNeil’s songwriting. For all the gravitas inherent in the album title and overarching theme, it’s a testament to her skills that she’s created an album that is fundamentally a pop record.
While MacNeil’s lyrics are tinged with pessimism and occasional bleakness, her heart-on-sleeve honesty is endearing, and the melodies present on ‘Idealistic Animals’ are surprisingly immediate and accessible, at odds with the sometimes stark declarations made throughout the album. On the pseudo-title track ‘Man (Idealistic Animals)’, over a grandiose musical soundscape, she asserts that, ‘There’s no such thing as Paradise/Maybe now and then.’
Similarly, on album opener ‘Fox (Take Your Chances)’, she displays her ability to call it exactly as she sees it: ‘This is coming of the lord/But he’s not got to us yet … Life is dull as sin most of the time.’ Her candour and openness allows her to, well, take her chances as regards the style of music she makes, and the off-kilter pop that makes up most of this album is very good at hitting its mark. Also worth a mention is the fact that she uses some quirky vocal melodies that do a lot to mask the seriousness of the record’s subject matter – Exhibit A: ‘Camel (Not Black or White But Camel)’, one of the album’s highlights.
There’s nary a dull moment on ‘Idealistic Animals’, and MacNeil has presented herself as a strikingly ambitious talent. She tries lots of different things over the course of the album – there’s even a gospel-tinged finale in the form of ‘Kite (Soon We’ll Light Up)’ – and the rather broad palette she draws from goes a long way towards pointing out that she’s positively brimming with ideas. Her second album is immediate, but its concept takes a little getting used to. I didn’t ‘get it’ until my third or fourth listen, but such is its nature. The moment of epiphany I had with it was something genuinely special, and somehow I know I’ll keep coming back to it, even though 2012 is barely a week old.
Released January 09 2012 on City Slang
Echo Rating (((●●●●)))
Posted by Gareth O’Malley
Tags: City Slang Records, Dear Reader, Gareth O'Malley, Idealistic Animals