Every so often, only very occasionally, an artist can rise above the everyday top 40 treacle with music that is at all times accessible, daring, fresh and stylish. Past zeitgeist capturers who embody these traits have included Norah Jones, Dido, Tori Amos and Radiohead. So, it’s no real surprise that an Aussie woman with an incredible voice and goes by the name Sia could be the next in that illustrious line. Why? Her music is a fluid genre-bending symphony of voice and electronic sound that can resemble any one or a combination of the above-mentioned artists. Chances are, if you listen to a lot of music, you have possibly heard about Sia previously. Besides providing vocal turns for chill out act Zero 7, she also provided “Breathe Me,” the dénouement song for the HBO series Six Feet Under. That particular song is also provided on Sia’s latest effort, soon to be a major breakthrough, Colour the Small One.
I can safely say that alongside Kylie Minogue and Olivia Newton-John, Sia has the sexiest voice coming out from Down Under. She easily traverses between a breathy and jazzy delivery to a higher pitched teenage wistful keen. Part of the freshness of Colour could possibly come from the fact that Sia knew very little about modern music. Her first gigs were singing for the jazz group Crisp and singing over Prokofiev’s “Romeo & Juliet.” Before she began touring with Zero 7, the only CDs in her collection were a Jackson 5 compilation and Jeff Buckley’s Grace. While that wouldn’t make for a terrible or uninteresting combination, she was later introduced to James Taylor, Nick Drake, Harry Nilsson and Randy Newman. The furthering of Sia’s musical education, a kind of singer/songwriter 101, played an evident role on the new album. As Sia herself calls the CD, “it’s a slow burner, but it’s honest.”
“Breathe Me,” or the `Six Feet Under’ song, is the strongest here, with hollow, echoing piano and such intimate whispers that we hear the usually subtle smacking noises of moisture inside the singer’s cheeks. Sia’s longing is palpable, exposing the vulnerability of the lost child within, desperate for validation. When the deep bass combines with the strings and insistent piano at the three and a half minute break, a little piece of the soul is touched. The crown prince of the über-geeky, `awkward but cool’ singer/songwriter squad, Beck, co-writes “The Bully” with Sia and his imprimatur is all over it. The xylophones with acoustic guitar along with a layered chorus all lead to the midnight vulture himself. It’s easy to glean why Beck felt compelled to collaborate with the Australian as her entire confessional album is the equivalent of “I’m a loser, baby, so why don’t you kill me.”
Other tracks stand out along with the previous two including “Sweet Potato,” an Ani DiFranco-like look at two sides of a flawed relationship, “Don’t Bring Me Down,” a string-heavy smoldering hypnotizer and “Natale’s Song,” a track which defies the listener to not sing along, nor ever to forget its simple exquisite rhythm and entrancing chorus. Overall, there is not one single skippable track on Colour the Small One. Each song carefully treads the highwire with MOR radio worthiness on one side and eclectic obscurity on the other. Sia has discovered that the only way to truly attain that mix is to throw all care to the wind, truly expose one’s own flaws, and hope that everyone comes along for the ride. I have no doubt that many a listener will be putting their thumbs out for a chance to get aboard Colour the Small One. The way I feel about Sia is expressed by the singer herself in “Natale’s Song” as she intones “Momentarily…she brings peace to me.”
Tori Amos- To Venus and Back
Dido- White Flag
Frou Frou- Details