(It has taken a few years but Sydney Wayser is finally getting the attention she should have been getting out of the box. She performs under the name Clara-Nova these days nut still has that unique approach to music she has had from the beginning. This is a review I wrote of what I believe is her first album, The Colorful, which I now consider to be classic. First released in 2009, it helped me through a long hard summer.)
I don't believe I've heard better use of percussion on an album this year than on Sydney Wayser's The Colorful. She deserves a Grammy for that alone--- or the band does. But I get ahead of myself.
With alto voice textured like soft velour, Sydney Wayser takes us through a wonderland of songs on The Colorful, and what songs they are. Mini-compositions, actually, movements segmented in just the right portions and repeated marginally, if that. More than a few have four or more separate segments, astonishing in songs of four minutes and less. No verse/chorus/verse/chorus/bridge/chorus for her. She takes each song where it naturally wants to go and after just a few listens, you begin to hear how involved this seemingly simple music is.
As it flows, it is easy to miss the juxtaposition of instruments or the constantly changing rhythm patterns or the insertion of one measure or even one note which, after it passes, is gone for good. Or the fluctuating percussion on tracks like “La Di Da,” which changes every four measures or so, and covers the gamut from semi-march snare (both stick and brush, at different points) to full-on Phil Spector-ish reverbed tambourine to slight syncopated rock riff.
Speaking of “La Di Da,” it is Brill Building pop with Spector-style genius. At one point a verse ends with one simple power chord, probably synthesized in some way and sounding like our Spector-ish ghost corralling the entire trombone section of the New York Philharmonic for just that one note. If the song wasn't so complicated, I would say that that one moment makes the song, but there are moments like that throughout the song and, indeed, the whole album. Everything about “La Di Da,” though, screams hit--- the intriguing sense of melody, interplay of toy bells (?) with plucked violin (?), the beat (You can dance to it. I give it an 87)--- everything. To really appreciate the song, put headphones on and crank it up. It overpowers you.
Of course, that is Wayser's “commercial” side, meaning the most accessible to the average music lover, I suppose. There are eleven other gems here, though, ranging from the soulful and slightly jazz-tinged “Oh The Places You'll Go,” the starkly dramatic “Pomegranate” (odd electronic and percussive effects and all), the almost symphonic “Whistles and Kazoos” which breaks the spell on the chorus and throws in a bridge which could be a whole other song itself, “Banjo Bayou” with sharply percussive piano and banjo lead-in to the chorus and beyond (when you hear how they change tempo by the simple inclusion of handclaps, you begin to get what I said earlier about the use of percussion).
Musicianship? Man, this album has it. I have to assume that the band lineup was responsible for the vast majority of the music on The Colorful because I am working off of MP3s and can find no specific album info on Wayser's pages, so let us so assume. On bass, ladies and gentlemen, Rob Lundburg, who plays as solid a standup bass as I've heard in some time. He is not just bedrock (or another pretty face), but an integral part of each piece. On guitar, Blaze McKenzie, who does everything short of strangle the guitar to squeeze out the right notes. On “hittables”, as listed on the MySpace page, Zach Mangan, who hits anything and everything with a magic touch. And on keyboards and vox, Ms. Wayser, who has jumped from a name on the Internet to Musician and Composer of Great Consequence in twelve unique steps.
Oh, in case you run into the “toy instruments” rap, don't let that fool you. Wayser and crew could have done the album with whatever instruments they had handy, they are that good. Toys? Why not? When used right, they sound great.
Sydney Wayser has an earlier release available titled The Silent Parade which garnered some positive press. Benji Rogers of Marwood mentioned it more than once on his pages, but I came a bit late to the parade and had to either purchase it (which I would have done, if I was solvent) or await The Colorful. I waited. While it was well worth the wait, I am now curious about that parade and will eventually, I am sure, slake that curiosity.
Seriously, this is one talented lady here. The Colorful is more than likely only the second step to a long and successful music career. If you want to wait to pick up on her when everyone else does, that's fine. But I tell you, it is better to dive in with both feet when it comes to music this good and it is always fun to stand around at parties and listen to your friends rave about someone you've already had on your playlist for some time. It is called being ahead of the curve, my friends. It's nice up there. Trust me.