Songs for Creeps by The Places (Review)

Annelle’s songs encapsulate entire tiny little worlds of sound, conjuring up dim images of broken down places and darkened rooms pregnant with memory and longing.
Songs for Creeps, The Places

The word “folk” is often tossed about when describing Amy Annelle’s music, presumably because the acoustic guitar is such a dominant instrument and because her poetic lyrics don’t fit within any sort of easy pop categorization. However, such a label doesn’t take into account the surreal atmospheres and haunting textures that loom throughout her music, which is as ambient and spacious as that from any proper “ambient” musician.

Annelle’s songs encapsulate entire tiny little worlds of sound, conjuring up dim images of broken down places and darkened rooms pregnant with memory and longing. Field recordings, samples, broken snippets of conversation, and radio and television footage add to these images, creating lived-in spaces where the inhabitants have since packed up and moved on, leaving behind spiritual and emotional debris that Annelle then slowly picks through and documents.

Songs for Creeps is Annelle’s 6th solo disc, and the 4th under The Places moniker, and though it starts off on a rollicking, raucous note, it soon settles into Annelle’s typical eerie hush. Waves of crackling static, tape hiss, and the distant sounds of Native American chanting and fiery sermons immediately remove “My Weary Eye” from reality, instead positing it into some darkened parallel world — a world that small children sometimes stumble into as they make their way through darkened rooms, rooms full of shadows and pools of inky night that may hide danger or wonder, but which nevertheless beg to be explored.

Sometimes ghosts are summoned by Annelle’s otherworldly music. As she sings “I’ve seen the holes burned into these walls/By the eyes of the lonely/Who’ve long ago given up calling for mercy/Oh mercy me,” the organ comes wheezing alongside, sighing like those broken souls of whom Annelle sings. Annelle’s lyrics show a remarkable eye for detail, picking up on those fragments that communicate her subjects’ brokenness (“A lady lives next to me/She has some family/Her hair is still blond, though her body has softened/Her daughter’s ashamed of her/Stays half an hour on Christmas and her birthday”).

The gorgeous, golden lilt of a lap steel glides through “Gold To Green,” and a little sunlight pierces the album’s sunset haze. Annelle’s quivering voice is as breathy as ever, possessing a certain longing heartache as she sings an ode to autumn’s coming (“September is but a half-month/Just time enough to sweetly wave goodbye to lives lived by golden hours on lovers’ isles”). The song ends with Annelle pleading “Stay with me my faded angel/We’ll turn the leaves from gold to green/This is no time to take your leave/The sun can live inside/Stay…,” the lap steel responding with its lovely tones.

Even when Annelle isn’t arresting you with her lyrics, the music is always enthralling, with acoustic guitars and backing atmospherics drifting by on even such choppy tracks as “The Natural Arc.” But more often than not, she’s hitting you between the eyes with such poigant nuggets as “The Damn Insane Asylum,” which finds several restless types trying to find an abandoned insane asylum, but instead finding “a planned community from the seventies/An unclimbable wall around where the asylum wreck should be.”

But it’s not just about urban sprawl. The metaphor also serves to describe her characters, restless people courted by sex and cocaine, people with pristine exteriors but hiding “quietly rotting shame and misery.” Such a dramatic turn could be ponderous and fall on its face, but Annelle’s downwards-spiralling guitars and keys make it as graceful as can be. And the field recordings that fill up the song’s spaces, and which linger on after the song is done, suggest that there are still wide open places of mystery out there, places just waiting to be rediscovered and explored by such unique, sensitive, and beguiling songwriters as Amy Annelle.

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