I’ve spent a great portion of the year, thus far, submitting myself to big, buzzing, exclamatory records. It’s been a marathon of bells, whistles, noise and flash, and to be honest, it’s been pretty fun. But after being overloaded with pop, metal, disco and art-rock like an unblinking gaze down the Vegas strip, a record that actually allows room for a breath, and allows its songs to simply flow with unhurried ease, becomes far more attention grabbing and striking than anything turned to eleven could hope to. Tiny Vipers’ second album, Life On Earth, is just that record, and not only is it soft and spacious, it’s absolutely beautiful.
Following up 2007’s Hands Across the Void, Tiny Vipers’ Jesy Fortino hasn’t changed her approach on Life On Earth. The Seattle singer-songwriter keeps her songs stripped as bare to the world as possible, while retaining a captivating, almost hypnotic sense of melody. As much as space and ambience play a strong supporting role in Fortino’s songwriting, the melodies that break through are accessible and gorgeous, even catchy at times. In particular, the slowly unfolding opener “Eyes Like Ours” is a stunning example of how powerful Fortino can make a few simple guitar plucks beneath her delicate croon.
“Development” finds Fortino playing a slightly more straightforward folk tune, still bare and fragile, but with a bit more rhythmic repetition. Her tone is one of mourning and regret, however, as she sings, “If we could talk and we could laugh/ for one last time, and turn the clock back round/ those buildings that were built after you’d gone away/ would all come crashing down.” “Slow Motion” has more of a meditative feel, with each note of Fortino’s guitar gently ringing out in equal measures, while “Dreamer,” one of the most accessible of the bunch, is likely the closest thing to a single, though, curiously enough, it’s not really that different than the tracks that precede it. Given Fortino’s stark approach and penchant for slow, freely flowing progressions, the slightest drift toward a hook or a tighter structure can make for a drastic difference. Likewise, with “Time Takes,” she switches her approach to a more upbeat, strumming style, opting for a fuller sound, but one equally haunting. Yet on “Young God,” the one track where Fortino is joined by another musician, the extra element makes a world of difference, as Chris Majerus’ piano becomes a sinister, harrowing foil to Fortino’s spectral voice.
Fortino’s music is much like the cover image on Life On Earth, as her image is but a small figure amid shadows and embers from a flame. Yet one gets a firm sense of her vulnerability, even though her presence may seem small and unassuming. Life On Earth conveys a lot with a little, and though there may be no feedback to speak of, nor lights and sirens, the emotional impact Tiny Vipers leaves will be felt long after the album’s final pluck of a string.
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.