Whenever an album successfully captures the chill of winter, its gray mornings and icy breezes, it is often cut from a dark and melancholy cloth. Scott Walker’s The Drift or Portishead’s Third, ironically both released in Springtime, are such albums, substituting eerie dissonance for hooks or comforting sounds. That isn’t to say that a winter album can’t have a warm feeling lurking underneath. Most of The Walkmen’s albums fit this description snugly, as does the latest album by Sanni Baumgartner, a.k.a. Dancer Vs. Politician, titled A City Half Lost.
The German-born Baumgartner relocated to underground music petri dish Athens, Ga., in the 90s, where she began her musical career that has seen her performing with Vic Chesnutt and members of Olivia Tremor Control. Dancer Vs. Politician, her solo project, is soft and delicate in tone, sparse, yet gorgeously arranged with guitars, pianos, strings, singing saws and a fuzzy ambience. She’s been compared to Nico, which is fitting to a certain extent. Both singers are German, and the intricate guitar in A City Half-Lost‘s leadoff track “Mach Dich Los” bears a resemblance to that of “These Days.” Yet Baumgartner’s voice is prettier and higher pitched, which finds her in stark contrast to Nico’s deeper, darker pipes.
While “Mach Dich Los” kicks off A City Half-Lost with a slightly upbeat, sweet tone, “Mond & Stern” is a more somber dirge, with a singing saw weeping beneath Baumgartner’s German-sung whisper. The amazing “Keine Zut” is a bit more playful, progressing with a fluid, yet mechanical repetition, guitar harmonics and glockenspiel harmonizing with one another, over an ever-so slightly danceable beat. It’s simple, but truly a wondrous song. “Justin Fairborn” finds Baumgartner launching into a catchy nugget of twee-pop, with guitars and glockenspiels chiming under her sweet vocals, which could pass for Isobel Campbell-era Belle& Sebastian. And its opening line, “Justin Fairborn/ wrote me a song once,” is a classic, if only for prompting the listener to pay even closer attention to the storyline that unfolds.
Sanni Baumgartner has created something gorgeous, and something special, with A City Half-Lost. It’s a perfect winter album, but one whose snowflake-sprinkled melodies could easily make the transition into spring. A City Half-Lost may seem most appropriate beneath a gray and opaque-white sky, but it’s as warm and comfy as a thick wool sweater.
Nico – Chelsea Girl
Beach House – Beach House
Belle & Sebastian – If You’re Feeling Sinister
Jeff Terich is the founder and editor of Treble. He's been writing about music for 20 years and has been published at American Songwriter, Bandcamp Daily, Reverb, Spin, Stereogum, uDiscoverMusic, VinylMePlease and some others that he's forgetting right now. He's still not tired of it.