Julie Feeney - 13 Songs
Arctic Monkeys garnered press coverage they didn't really need back in September when they scooped the music prize all UK acts have their sights set on. However, earlier in 2006 over in Ireland, one Julie Feeney walked away with the Choice Music Prize, Ireland's equivalent to the Mercury Music Prize. A professional choral singer and composer, Feeney's debut album 13 Songs is quite possibly the most un-Arctic Monkeys record you could hear this year. That's right, the gal-done-good is releasing her already-successful album over here in cool Britannia. The question is, did it deserve all the plaudits?
Well, yes and no. Opener Aching is the best thing on the record, highlighting her interesting and frankly bodacious voice. When she sings 'I'm aching for you', she does so in a manner that stretches the word 'aching', sustaining the note for over twenty seconds. The song is a warm scene-setter that is never bettered, the vocal as impressive as Sinead O' Connor's powerhouse performance on Nothing Compares 2 U. However, a good proportion of the tracks here are worthy of note. Feeney plays eleven instruments on the record, ranging from accordion on Wind Out of My Sails and xylophone on Autopilot. The latter, however, is nearly (not quite) ruined by the self-consciously quirky vocals. Like Imogen Heap, Feeney has been playing with computers, creating layered harmonies. She also has a tendency to go on a bit of a tangent and, like her major influence Regina Spektor, throw in some weird vocal parts - now and again, she'll go all 'ba da ba ba' on your arse (check out Alien), and the effectiveness of these improvisations varies. The Spektor influence is also felt on You Bring Me Down, a fast-paced track that is too loopy for its own good, containing odd lyrics such as 'I need to catch the bee in your bonnet/Turn it inside out with you on it'. More successful are 'straighter' tracks like Wastin' and the piano-led single You Broke the Magic, which is just waiting to soundtrack a Zach Braff film. Sometimes weird does work though, Fictitious Richard's harpsichord/recorder face-off echoing the chamber music thrills of Joanna Newsom and seeing Feeney narrating a prince 'n' princess fairytale. She even does sexy on the slight but effective piano-bar number Under My Skin.
Although certain tracks disappear up their own rump, and some merely fizzle away into nothing special at all, there are some special songs here which make it easy to see why Feeney has been such a critic's sensation over in Ireland. Her ethereal voice is a big draw but the album's overall playful tone is a winning one. 13 Songs is a more accessible version of something like Bjork's Medula, only with instruments. Hopefully, though, she'll give up trying to be the quirkiest songstress out there in time for album number two. If she sticks to composing songs as melodic and catchy as You Broke the Magic, she may well just prove to be a keeper.