Review: Christina Carter, “Lace Heart”

Christina Carter’s music has been compared to Jandek’s , but that analogy goes only so far. Her style is bare and ghostly, but the music on Lace Heart is more approachable and tranquil than anything in Jandek’s catalog. Each song is a long, slow sigh, but the hypnotic strumming of her guitar and the power of her voice contribute a heavy undertow, and bring some extra substance to the table.

Two years ago a meager 300 copies of this album were pressed and released on Christina’s Many Breaths label, each adorned with a handmade cover that included newspaper clippings and original artwork. Root Strata’s edition of 500 copies favors a far more elaborate package. New artwork and some flashy vinyl constitute the visual component of Carter’s record this time around, both of which compliment the delicate and airy sounds that populate the album’s six songs.

The auburn bursts of color on the cover hint at music Christina pulls from her guitar. Her style is a blend of jagged rhythmic strumming and diaphanous, almost ethereal tones. Melodies often sound as though they are seeping out from her strings in quiet ribbons, but many of the songs  also feature awkward meters and broken phrases that jump from Carter’s fingers in an almost improvised fashion. This juxtaposition is probably responsible for many of the Jandek comparisons Carter has received, but her music is far more melodic and sober than his.

For Christina, songwriting is obviously more important than anything else. The atmosphere isn’t exactly secondary, but it is the result of her ritualistic approach to song craft and the quasi-ambiguous lyrics she favors; the echo and reverb that soak it act only as decorations in an already ornate and severe structure.

The album begins with a simple looping melody. The repetition is bluesy, but the melody is less showy and played straight, at least at first. Christina’s chants of “Dream long, dream long” drift out of the speakers as though her voice were resonating from inside a cave. References to sanctuaries and partnerships immediately bestow a sacred quality upon the record and the simplistic, almost droning quality of the “Dream Long” melody appropriately recalls the spellbinding meter of some religious music. As the song slowly unravels, moans of melody bubble up over a dominant rhythmic plucking and send the record off on a solo jam that would be perfectly entrancing were it not for the sudden cut which ends it.

This quick fade or sudden cut is used to conclude a couple of the songs on Lace Heart. It represents the album’s greatest flaw and most annoying feature. After listening to seven or more minutes of sinuous guitar parts, the last thing I want to hear is a sudden fade or awkward stop in the music.

The majority of the record is a continuous and calming string of understated phrases, however, which makes harping on a single negative quality pointless.

Both Carter’s lyrics and her jumbled strumming elicit a relaxed and hazy sensation much like being half awake. On “I Am Seen” she combines a vocal fugue with a rambling guitar line and inverts the relationship typically shared between her and her instrument. Elsewhere, “Long Last Breaths” almost disappears into the midst of its own repetition, becoming very silent before settling into a rumbling, unaccompanied groove.

Lace Heart, like many of Christina’s solo records, exists in a meditative, almost obsessive place. In less capable hands a boring or numbing experience might have been the result. Lace Heart’s dream-like progression and somewhat obtuse character provide a lot of depth, however, and make it both a superficially enjoyable record and potentially deep listening experience.

Lace Heart is available on Root Strata (2xLP) and Many Breaths (CDr)
Sound samples available at Brainwashed.com

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