From freak-folk to lo-fi, and experimental to chamber pop, one of the most meritorius independent record labels, Asthmatic Kitty, houses an impressive mix of artists. With such a transcendent group of musicians, it’s fortunate that the label has maintained it’s roots, fan base, and credibility among the Pitchfork scenesters. But a former member of Stevens touring band has struck gold with the biggest and boldest release of the year for the label. On A Thousand Shark’s Teeth, Shara Worden, the visceral front-woman of the band My Brightest Diamond, channels the hypnotic down tempo of Portishead and the ambience of Bjork to create one of the most enigmatic and engaging orchestral experiences the modern baroque pop world has seen recently.
Worden not only writes and sings her own songs, but composes the orchestral arrangements and produces the recordings as well. An extremely talented woman with a musical lineage (her grandfather was a traveling Epiphone-playing-evangelist, her father an award-winning accordionist, and her mother an organist for the church), she earned a degree in opera and received esteemed tutelage from Australian composer Padma Newsome. Her natural talent is evident by the attention-grabbing beauty of her voice on songs such as the stellar second track, “The Ice & The Storm”, where she swoons the listener with her sensitive voice juxtaposed with delicate guitar and orchestral arrangements.
But she isn’t always extravagant. On “Apples,” Worden simplifies love with relatable, flirtatious lyrics (Sometimes in the Springtime / I like to see the apples blossom with you) and restrained instrumentation. “Apples” is extremely subdued in stark contrast to the album’s unbridled centerpiece “To Pluto’s Moon,” where the listener travels from planet to planet in unison with the sonically complex arrangements. A near seven-minute excursion begins with a swell of orchestration interconnected with her operatic voice. It soon morphs into an exploration of the world of sullen trip-hop with grooving drums and guitar in the chorus when she sings “Why did you go like this? / I slam against the wall / it’s crushing my skull / Why did you go like this?” The journey, which metaphorically displays the congruity of running past Jupiter to Pluto’s moon and the relativity of being left behind by a loved one, is poignant and raw.
While the majority of the album is quiet and refined, the strongest piece on the album is the lead single and remarkably intricate first track, “Inside a Boy.” Beginning with a simple guitar riff, it quickly transforms into a resolute blend of gritty guitars and courageous orchestral arrangements, glued together by the archaic sound of Worden’s classically-trained voice. Without hesitation, her voice has never sounded so imaginative as it elevates and declines in the entire mezzo-soprano and soprano spectrum showing her versatility and talent.
A Thousand Shark’s Teeth, which relies heavily on orchestral arrangements, simply isn’t Bring Me The Workhouse Part Deux, even if she does sing parts of the beautiful “Black & Costaud” in French. “Workhouse” was a rock album which brought to life the naivety of childhood memories– “Teeth” is an introspective album about love. The growth and maturation of Worden– her voice, her subject matter, her musicality– is chronicled through the 11 inspired tracks on A Thousand Shark’s Teeth. On “Black & Costaud,”where she borrows lyrics from a French opera, she sings “aver ma voix je marm’lad toi,” which translates to what one can only assume was her purpose– “with my voice I turn you into marmalade.” I believe she succeeded.