Skylar Gudasz - Cinema Music Album Reviews

The North Carolina singer-songwriter has a voice that attracts metaphors about hypnotism. Her second album reveals a subtle, complex staging of femininity that resists easy resolutions.

Skylar Gudasz’s 2016 debut, Oleander, was North Carolina’s best-kept secret. Her follow-up, Cinema, is already attracting national attention. It’s not hard to see why this might be Gudasz’s moment: She’s a gifted singer-songwriter with a voice that attracts metaphors about hypnotism, and she’s wound her rhythm section like a swinging silver watch. Cinema is as dark and groovy as Oleander was bright and wafting; it’s more imperative and solidly formed. It also adds enough breadth to her discography to glimpse, beyond the individual beautiful songs, the outline of a holistic artistic persona, distinguished by Gudasz’s subtle, complex staging of femininity.

Cinema’s multitude of genres are all tuned to the storm-cloud key of majestic opener “Femme Fatale.” “Rider” is country, “Animal” is folk, “Actress” is garage-psych, and “Go Away” is piano pop, but the album’s well-developed throughlines make the variation discreet. Gudasz’s band of North Carolina ringers sail at a measured pace, just like how she sings, and the scratchy snarl of her guitar keeps the organs and strings down to earth. The fountaining run of her voice recalls Joni Mitchell, while her classic yet chameleonic songwriting suggests Leonard Cohen, another student of ambiguity with the nerve to put his own name in a song, as Gudasz does on “Animal.” But her developing conceptual persona adds something new to the mix: the enigmatic self-performance of someone like Lana Del Rey.
Individually, the songs impress with the poetry and grace of their sensory details, like the “waist inside the crook of my arm” from the back of a motorcycle on “Rider.” Cumulatively, they bring the razor-edged meaning of certain recurring traits into sharp focus. That “Rider” verse proceeds with such delicacy that it’s easy to miss the bloody crash at the end, and it’s indicative of the way Gudasz ironizes images of love without cheapening them.

Her songs almost invariably contain an “I” and a “you,” though Gudasz might be either, neither, or both. She addresses women characters with tenderness, and men with amused contempt veiled by sweetness. (Any time you hear her call someone “babe,” watch out.) She slips, blank-faced, into masculine pronouns, a device that runs from Oleander’s “I’ll Be Your Man” to her stunning recent cover of “Wichita Lineman.” Iconic images of feminine glamour—in press photos, she reclines on the hood of a classic car or stands on a dune wearing fur—are Trojan horses for songs that undermine them from within, as Gudasz deconstructs male projections through pantomime and denunciation. “I ain’t no silent doll, and I ain’t that sweet,” she warns on “Play Nice,” lest anyone is having trouble telling the sugar from the salt.

Cinema revolves around two archetypes: the star and the server, the one who is only seen and the one who never is. The former is writ large in the album’s title and film-noir tint, the latter in “Waitress” and the video for “Rider.” The two characters blur together in “Actress,” the purest expression of Gudasz’s resistance to resolving multiple exposures into one pat image. The overlapping, shifting edges between personal and projected desire are the contested zone she’s exploring. Instead of evading projections such as bad girl, sweet girl, tough girl—any kind of girl, really—Gudasz tries them on for size, humanizing them, only to fling back the empty costumes with a potent question for the culture that created them: So, this is what you want? Are you sure?
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About Wanni Arachchige Udara Madusanka Perera

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Skylar Gudasz - Cinema Music Album Reviews Skylar Gudasz - Cinema Music Album Reviews Reviewed by Wanni Arachchige Udara Madusanka Perera on Friday, May 01, 2020 Rating:

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