By Yawen Xue
On Apr. 24 Roger O’Donnell released his new solo album, “2 Ravens.” Jennifer Pague of the synth and indie pop band Vita and the Woolf sings in four of the eight tracks.
With a discography that spans musical genres from jazz to post-punk to ballet, O’Donnell is no stranger to experimentation with new genres. In addition to two solo studio albums, he has performed with new wave acts The Psychedelic Furs and Thompson Twins, and is best known for his role as a keyboardist of The Cure.
“2 Ravens” is unlike anything O’Donnell has released before. It’s a sparse, pastoral album recorded mainly with cellos or a string quartet. It is an album that grows on the listener. At first, the opening track’s subtle dissonance and slow pace sound rather unremarkable, oddly jarring at times, and all the songs seem to blend together. Each subsequent listen, however, reveals the exquisite nuances. As the contrast between the eight songs grows sharper, so does the intrigue.
Jennifer Pague’s voice enters the album on the second track, “An Old Train.” Through the songs, her voice soars — at times standing out clearly, at times blending in with the strings. Her indie rock vocals contrast starkly with the background music. Her lyrics are whimsical and almost nonsensical, more expressive of feelings than meanings.
“The Hearts Fall” is the highlight of the album. Clocking in at over nine minutes long, it’s an epic-like instrumental that never gets boring. A smattering of urgent piano notes drives the first few minutes. What follows is a brief cascade of piano notes that leads to a slow yet melodious section. At the end, the song disintegrates and fades into the next.
A sense of thoughtful melancholy and nostalgia pervades the album, offset by Pague’s dreamlike singing — especially noticeable in “I’ll Say Goodbye,” a lullaby-like song situated fantastically at the end of the album.
The songs on “2 Ravens” hold together beautifully. Beyond the first appearance of Pague’s ethereal vocals, there are no stylistic surprises on the album — every song distinctly belongs. Yet, O’Donnell was able to craft eight different songs, each one evoking a different story. “December” doesn’t catch quite as much intrigue as an opener, and the penultimate “Don’t Tell Me” sounds almost filler-like. Even with these flaws, “2 Ravens” is a delight to listen to — a nostalgic, wintry kind of delight.
“[My album] was just really an outpouring of emotion and self-reflection and creativity that all came at once,” said O’Donnell during an interview with Clash Magazine last March. “Because it was that time of year and being in Devon, [England], it’s got a very rural but quite bleak feel to it I think,” he added.
“2 Ravens” is held together by a slightly dismal atmosphere and harmony rather than explicit melodies. Despite the lack of catchy hooks — or perhaps because of it — the album endures multiple listens and doesn’t become tedious.
Amid the monotony of the COVID-19 lockdown, “2 Ravens” is particularly relevant. As enthralling as it is, the album is understated and unintrusive. It’s perfectly suited as a soundtrack for quiet reflection during the pandemic.
Contact Yawen Xue at yawenxue2004 ‘at’ gmail.com.