Music Reviews
Life on Earth

Tiny Vipers Life on Earth

(Sub Pop) Buy it from Insound Rating - 8/10
Sometimes music can be too much.  I recently saw Abe Vigoda play here in Toronto and their sound was so loud and so intense it practically winded me on the spot.  Similarly, I can only listen to Neutral Milk Hotel’s In the Aeroplane Over the Sea on select occasions as it can be a truly emotionally draining experience.  Bearing this in mind, I can offer nothing but admiration for those artists who trade in intensity and are willing to occupy a space few are willing to endure.  Tiny Vipers is one of these acts.  It took me a week or so before I could get past the first four tracks of Life on Earth, they were so stark and painful.

Tiny Vipers is the project of  Jesy Fortino, a Seattle-based musician with one of the most distinctive voices I have heard recently.  Her voice is deep and troubled, world-weary with the strange lilt of folk singer inverted according to the more downbeat nature of her music.  This strange and powerful instrument is paired against long, almost droning, acoustic backdrops that set a meditative tone that holds as the albums core.  Every now and then the music cuts back and the listener is left with one single repeating note and Fortino crying out, reverberating across the top.

It’s a lot to deal with, sometimes too much.  Although the album clocks in at almost sixty five minutes, space has been drawn out and magnified so much during those minutes that the listening time is as intense as can be had with a record of this length.  Centrepiece, and title track, Life On Earth is emblematic of this, ten minutes long, mostly building on one short guitar lick that later turns into strummed chords.  “I’m empty as the sea, back before there was life on earth”, Fortino sings, suggesting that the album’s title might not be as life-affirming as is implied.

But if the worst thing that can be said about an album is that it’s too intense, there must be a lot right about it and there definitely is here.  While it won’t be for everyone, and won’t be an album for all occasions, Life on Earth is a stark, devastating achievement.  It’s the sound of someone completely in their own world, an artist who refuses to compromise her sound.  Furthermore, it is a consistent statement, a collection of songs that are perfectly sequenced and run beautifully together with no awkward interruptions.

Album highlight, Dreamer, demonstrates everything that is fantastic about this record.  There is a repetitive plucked guitar pattern constructed mainly of cascading arpeggios.  Then there is that voice, low, melodic, and not for the only time on this record, sounding almost as though it could break down completely at any point.; “I’m dying for a way out”, the voice goes into a higher register.  Listening to music like this, two thoughts spring to mind: I am grateful for the person who is willing to go to this place and report back so honestly, and I am grateful that that person is not me.