reviewed by Michael Thomas
Space is the name of the game in Dominique Fils-Aimé’s debut album. The eight songs never feel choked with sound; they breathe and come off as much more powerful as a result. The main source of power is Fils-Aimé’s voice, which is the only thing you’ll hear in two of the album’s songs.
Fils-Aimé says she was inspired by the soul singers of the 1940s and 60s, and you can certainly hear it in her songs. But what makes the songs so different is the sparseness of her arrangements. She includes two covers on the album as bookends, starting with the classic “Strange Fruit” and ending with the equally-as-classic “Feeling Good.” Both just leave the listener and Fils-Aimé’s vocals, some of which are looped. There’s a lot of power in both of these songs, but I especially admire that “Feeling Good” never “explodes.” It’s a subtle, quiet performance.
The other six songs on the album use instruments sparingly. Following “Strange Fruit” is the simply titled “Birds” (in fact, all original songs on the album have one-word titles). The song seems to be a metaphor about the way people who are different co-exist. She starts the song singing on her lower register, backed only by an upright bass.
“Sleepy” is perhaps the “loudest” song on the album, and Fils-Aimé shows off what she can do when she gets a little louder. The guitars on the song are just as subtle as Fils-Aimé’s vocals. “I Rise” is the only song to combine Fils-Aimé’s vocals and vocal loops with twinkling keys, and “Home” is the closest to a full-band track, with upright bass, drums, and later some subtle guitars.
“Nameless” may be the strongest song of the album, with violin as the main backing instrument. The song is from the point of view of someone who doesn’t know who she is anymore. “Who’s out there shouting my name? Don’t you know it don’t belong to me no more,” she sings.
There’s also “Unstated,” an interesting vocal experiment that features no words, just vocalizing, with backing violin matching her vocal pattern. It doesn’t quite gel with the rest of her album, but an interesting risk nonetheless.
There’s definitely a dearth of vocal-centric music out there, and Nameless shows subtlety is the key to making it work.
Top Tracks: “Birds”; “Nameless”
Rating: Strong Hoot (Good)