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Johanna Kunin


If you are seeking all the warmth of a flannel blanket in winter, wrap yourself in Johanna Kunin's latest release Clouds Electric, a classically-infused tapestry produced by Tucker Martine.

"Voices in a Bottle" supposes life that is becoming engulfed by water--devoid of vocal desperation in sound and lyric--and is backed by digital music that could have been culled from a Stereolab release. "Blueberry" recalls the dual optimism of Joni Mitchell--replete with pouts, and patters of her breathy delight, backing her own lead vocals. "You leave a stain upon my hand. Sweet sorrows I can not mend," she sings--and, at once, is both melancholy and ascendant. That is the mood throughout.

Martine--no less than a rising star for his production of the Decembrists' Crane Wife and Laura Veirs' Saltbreakers in the past year--achieves the objective. That Kunin landed Martine as producer is a cue to discerning listeners. Building momentum, and then slowing our hearts, the partnership between artist and producer exudes symbiosis. He also contributes drums to the album--sparse at some moments, and steady on others. "City of the Morning" shows the collaboration of drum, guitar, melodica, and voice--sounding resilient as Tori Amos, suggesting that we are "trying not to try...to wake up."

Kunin shows off her chops on "The Butterfly," composed originally by Edvard Grieg in his Lyric Pieces (for piano), published between 1867 and 1901. The selection of this classical tune seems apt, for Grieg's hometown of Bergen, Norway--with its fantastic vistas, availed atop majestic fjords--makes the perfect interlude to the verdant echo of her voice. She can sound both vast and muted simultaneously, drawing us in only to be released by exhalation.

Clouds Electric tempts sentiments of warmth in the same way that the Sunday's Reading, Writing, and Arithmetic did two decades earlier. When I first developed the ability for introspective thought and contemplation, that album gave me a platform. The distinctively northern sound that is Johanna Kunin supposes that emotion, and adds the expedience beholden of the Pacific Northwest.  • Robert Karmin

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