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Maria Taylor’s 11:11

Simple answer: release it on your own label. That’s what Bright Eyes’s Conor Oberst did with Maria Taylor’s debut solo effort, 11:11. Conor’s label, Saddle Creek, is now legendary for its emo content. Emo, for those that don’t know, is–on its most basic level–music that is derived from Weezer. Bands include the aformentioned Bright Eyes, Cursive, Dashboard Confessional, Jimmy Eat World, and Taylor’s main band, Azure Ray.

Maria’s career got a major boost when she added backing vocal’s to Bright Eyes’s 2001 album Lifted, or: The Story is in the Soil, Keep Your Ear to the Ground, on the song “Nothing Gets Crossed out. Her performance on that track is, simply put, enchanting. Her voice has a tenderness and sweetness that added to the track about 1000%.

But this isn’t a review of that album, it’s a review of Taylor’s.

11:11 is, without a doubt, one of the best albums released in 2005. Unfortunately, I couldn’t find it in North Dakota until about last month, at which point I snatched it up and started absorbing. (Yes, I know one can find it on Amazon.com–or through Saddle Creek’s own site–so stop saying “Yeah, but…” I know.) That’s the problem with having an indie label. Luckily, the Fargo-Moorhead area is a college town (we’ve got 3 four-years, a two-year tech college, and a business college), so indie releases show up more often than not. Sometimes they just take some time. Anyway, I digress.

This is the album Conor Oberst wanted to make with his 2005 Digital Ash in a Digital Urn. The problem is that Conor’s voice doesn’t lend itself too well to clicks, pops, synth pads, and washes of delay and reverb. Maria’s, on the other hand, does, and does so beautifully. The production is top-notch, and her melodies and multitracked harmonies are open, airy, even dreamy. I said that the first time I listened to it that it made me sleepy, in a good way.

The production, as I said, is fantastic, and I don’t think I could say enough about Mike Mogis and And LeMaster’s productions, as well as their programming. The string arrangements are great, too, and really add depth and emotional swells to the album. The whole album is crisp and clean without being overly sterile. The only production problem I have with it is that essentially all of the lead vocal tracks were double-trackes which makes some of it feel disconnected and unusual.

And with that, we dish out the bad. While this album is markedly better than the same style album from Bright Eyes, Conor’s influence is all over the album. When he makes his vocal cameo on the second track, “Song Beneath the Song”, his voice sticks out like a brain dart, and won’t go away. In a production so clean and perfect, Conor’s voice-that-takes-a-getting-used-to is so out of place, it makes me wish they would have left it out. It’s not bad, just… annoying.

All in all, though, 11:11 is fantastic, and it boasts a few different styles and influences over the course of its roughly 35-minute length. There’s some straight-up singer/songwriter stuff, some fun digital pop bits, and a lot of emo-tinged girl-view rock. I like this album a lot, and the flaws hardly outweigh the achievement.

Now to go buy some Azure Ray…

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