In the name of Throwback Week, I decided to review an album that took over my musical life for a good part of 2012, despite never having the chance to review it formally. This is one of the most inventive pop albums that I have ever heard, and it sounds just as fresh listening to it again today two years later. I’m talking about Tenderness’ The Axe is Ready at the Tree.
The title track reveals a lot of the attitude of the release, though each song is absolutely independent and unique. It introduces pitch-shifted vocals, which she uses to make her voice sound at times like different people, readily switches textures and tempos, and incorporates both tonal percussion and recorder lilts. (And the best part: she samples a cat!!)
“Devotional” appears as a tag for the album on Bandcamp, hinting at the Christian imagery and ideals represented in the songs. “We Lay Our Broken World” is actually a real hymn (lyrically); I once excitedly found a copy of it in the hymn book at my grandmother’s church. Of course, the unreal beat that drives it throughout is engrossing enough for you not to notice at first. Once you go back and listen through a Christian lens, you start to see it in other places, too: “your love’s too wonderful,” “your grace is so unnatural.”
Some more musical moments that prove this album is magical:
The animal allusions go beyond the first song’s cat, using synth sounds that could be cawing eagles and referencing dream-state German Shepherds in the lyrics. The intro of “Lake of Ice” sounds like it could be wind whistling through a rhythmically-minded rattling door. “Too Wonderful” dissolves into a drum beat and saxophone wiggling courtesy of Brodie West.
Besides a (wonderful) pair of one-off songs, we haven’t heard anything musically from Tenderness. I would absolutely love to hear new material from her, but I’ll accept this album for what it is: an incredibly enduring, creative, masterful work from one of Canada’s most interesting musicians.
Rating: Hunting Call (excellent) + *swoop*
Top Tracks: “We Lay Our Broken World in Sorrow at Your Feet,” “The Axe is Ready at the Tree,” “Too Wonderful.”