Review Summary: Without a doubt, My Brightest Diamond's best record yet.
My Brightest Diamond is a band, just like St. Vincent and Iron & Wine are both bands. The tricky part of this is that each one of these bands has such a clear, dominant lead persona, that many of us use pronouns like “his” or “she” when describing these acts, instead of “them” and “their.” A case can be made for both options. On one hand, it is true that each of these monikers fixes itself to more than one person on recordings and (usually) in live performance. For example, Annie Clark may write all the songs on St. Vincent’s records, but she does not play every instrument. On the other hand, these lead performers cycle through various backing players on different records and tours, and thus they remain the most constant factor. Take Sam Beam, for instance, whose Iron & Wine did
actually start as just a “he,” with Sam recording The Creek Drank the Cradle
alone on a 4-track in his home. So it’s a slippery slope. Are My Brightest Diamond a band? Or is it simply Shara Worden? How do we refer to them? (Her?)
Regardless, Shara Worden is the clear center. My Brightest Diamond is her brainchild. She writes all the lyrics, and much of the arrangements. She plays various instruments. These ideas are hers, clearly and definitively. Whoever is behind her, I always refer to MBD as Shara Worden, as a “her” and a “she” – I cannot help it! Worden has been working under the MBD pseudonym for a few years now, creating dense, lushly orchestrated and uber-dramatic art pop that both challenges and invites the listener. On her debut, Bring Me the Workhorse
, there was this sort of theatre-meets-rock’n’roll vibe that she rode throughout the whole record. Big drums and guitars clanged against luxurious strings. The follow-up, A Thousand Shark’s Teeth
was originally going to be a solely-stringed affair, but did eventually add in a few strands of those rockier elements. It was a more ethereal, slightly ambient affair than its predecessor, but no less beautiful or engaging. And that brings us to her third record under the MBD alias, All Things Will Unwind
The key elements of her formula are still here: the drama, the strings, the meshing of classical and rock (but with a bit of folk thrown in on this record). The biggest departure is the mood. Yes these songs are still theatrical, but it’s even more dramatic than normal. These songs sound like a score to Worden’s unwritten musical. The album is inspired by two very different subjects: the financial crisis (especially in Detroit where she is based) and her recent entrance into motherhood. These themes flit in and out of obviousness but they crop up throughout. “There’s a Rat” and “High Low Middle” are possibly the two most blunt statements about the economy, whereas “I Have Never Loved Someone” is a drop-dead gorgeous ode to her infant son.
The stylistic touches here are brilliant. The music on this record sounds like it’s being channeled from an earlier era, whereas the subject matter and the lyrics are all quite modern. The instruments used – strings, woodwinds, ukuleles, pump organs – are employed in slightly unconventional ways to mesh with each other quite well. Speaking of strings and woodwinds, seems an injustice to have gone this far without mentioning Worden’s supporting players: the chamber ensemble yMusic, whose contributions really make this record. The gorgeous woodwinds pour all over “In the Beginning,” the strings make the drama of single “Be Brave” that much more grandiose and gorgeous, and the two combine to add zesty playfulness to the fabulous “We Added It Up,. Other nice touches include the way her voice skips a bit for a second or two in “Reaching Through to the Other Side” or crops into those charming high pops in “There’s a Rat.”
The heavy orchestration is not always needed, as has been hinted at in previous releases (“If I Were Queen” and “We Were Sparkling” are two fine examples of her fine forays into the small and intimate). In the middle of the album is the beautiful ballad named “She Does Not Brave The War.” The track consists mainly of Worden’s voice and a plaintive ukulele. The melody is slow, patient, and languid. The ensemble does come in later, but the song as a whole proves just how powerful Worden can be on her own (as does the aforementioned closer “I Have Never Loved Someone”). Shara Worden has one of the best voices in music right now; her operatic pipes can skyrocket into astonishing high notes and can then double back on themselves into a gritty, quiet low end. She possesses a magnificent gift, both in her singing and songwriting. This is without a doubt My Brightest Diamond’s best record yet, so full of ideas, all executed excellently. And though it doesn’t really matter if you call My Brightest Diamond a “them” or a “she,” it still stands that Shara Worden is one of the most supremely talented artists in the independent music world.
Final Rating: 4.1
Best Songs: We Added It Up, Be Brave, She Does Not Brave the War, I Have Never Loved Someone