Lisa Germano's sixth solo album, and first for boat-rocking new label iMusic, does nothing if not cement her place as one of the most unique, intelligent and subtly disarming artists in music today. And she is, indeed, an artist before anything else -- songwriter, singer, musician, poet, elusive bookworm; she is so many things at once that no other single term can fit her as well as artist
Germano's songwriting and delivery is so distracted, so quiet, so unassuming, that it can be easy to miss just how fully-formed and focused her work actually is. The songs on Lullaby occupy the interior spaces of the mind in a way that few other songwriters can; Chan Marshall sometimes creeps into these quiet corners as well, but Cat Power's strengths lie far afield from the territory in which Germano has staked a claim.
It says something that eleven of the twelve tracks here can barely reach the three-minute mark, and often feel a bit fragmented, yet this brief album still somehow feels lengthy and fully realized. At first, Lullaby was difficult to listen to from beginning to end, yet the hushed melodies still crept inside and stuck throughout the day, pulling me back, and back, and back, until I listened to the whole thing through. More and more I listened, and heard new things each time, and honed in on the words more and more, until finally this work had really made itself at home inside of me.
The songs here are primarily piano-based, though there's also a solid rhythm section and a layer of ambient noise on most of the tracks. "Candy" and "It's Party Time" are relatively up-tempo numbers; otherwise, the songs here drift from one to the next at a melancholy pace.
The album's real highlight is Germano's lyrics. The album focuses on battling alcoholism, and the thing that keeps this from feeling clichéd (after all, just about every songwriter or poet seems to be battling one addiction or another) is the fact that Germano's songs seem to reflect someone smack in the middle of addiction -- someone who's really on the losing side of the battle (if she's fighting at all).
It also helps that Germano's delivery puts you in the alcoholic's place. This is most effectively done on the second of two title tracks ("Lullaby for Liquid Pig", as opposed the earlier "Liquid Pig"). When Germano breathes the words "Well if I do / Stop / Or if I don't / Stop / It doesn't matter / I probably won't / Stop," she says the word "stop" so quietly that you can actually hear how little chance she really has of doing just that. She can't even say the word, let alone actually do it.
Many tracks here feel less like songs than fragments of songs, as if Germano starts a song, then sort of distractedly trails off halfway through it -- and though she thinks she's picking up where she left off, she actually begins a new song altogether. This impression is reinforced by the repetition of certain musical and lyrical phrases: the child-like piano phrases of opener "Nobody's Playing" pop up again, a few tracks later, in "Pearls"; the two symmetrically placed title tracks ("Liquid Pig" begins three tracks in, "Lullaby for Liquid Pig", third from the end); and the constant search for "what's real".
This haziness, this stumbling search for solid ground, holds much of the lyrical focus. The twelve songs depict a battle, or a search for one's true identity. "Pearls" addresses this battle most directly: "While you last / Wear your mask / Wear it like it's real / Like home / These are my pearls / Like home." Other songs -- "Paper Doll", "Dream Glasses On", "From a Shell" -- speak of finding "what's real"; however, while each song may initially imply that sobriety is "what's real", by the end you'll wonder if somehow we've been convinced that it is, in fact, the alcohol that's real. "From a Shell" concludes, "There is love there is love there is love / It's the buzz it's the buzz it's the buzz". Finally, the closing track, "...To Dream", summarizes the battle best, in the sense that determining what's real is not one or the other, sobriety or alcohol, but who you are between the two: "Listen, you are dreaming / this is who you are / You don't have to run away." To be dreaming and to be who you are at once. What is real? Everything, every feeling, at all times.