A Negative Capability
Falling like a great wet blanket over the first buds of spring, Fancie (a.k.a. Elisabeth Wood) has crafted a complex debut album of matching torch songs and baroque folk-pop. Having first gained attention through singing backup for Kaitlyn Ni Donavan, who contributes violin to three tracks, Wood employs a deeply powerful voice and a penchant for unique guitar tunings to fill a niche in the female singer-songwriter universe that is largely her own.
Much of her musical product presents itself as a less orchestrated Nick Drake, with melodies, doused in melancholy and somber acoustic-based arrangements, presenting a stark contrast to much of the contemporary female singer-songwriter crowd. While her music has been favorably compared to Polly Jean Harvey and Julie Doiron, there are moments, such as the stripped down â€œI Lose,â€ when you could almost mistake her for a young Joan Baez. Still, Wood certainly isnâ€™t in the business of saving the world through protest songs, being much more content to drown the ghosts of failed relationships in clever metaphors. While her songwriting sense is undeniably elegant, the enveloping moroseness runs a little thick at 16 tracks.
Woodâ€™s finger-picking guitar skills are substantial enough to dominate the mix of many tracks, with the lilting-pop of â€œLove is Meatâ€ and the haunting â€œPunkinâ€ providing fine examples of her decidedly subdued style. In other places, the percolating guitar and drums of tracks like â€œWant Your Childâ€ interlock to wring every last drop of simmering displacement out of the moody atmosphere. Really though, as Wood uses her musical platform for a certain amount of therapeutic healing, her angst is of a completely different variety from artists like Ani DiFranco, presenting topics in an altogether metaphoric and less overt way. Similarly, Wood wonâ€™t overwhelm you with the immediacy of her musical arrangements, though the inclusion of the occasional flute or French horn goes a great distance to appropriately dress up the rather unadorned feel. Melodies generally hang on the periphery, rarely taking the spotlight from the despondent musings, although her lyrics are hard to decipher at times.
Overall, A Negative Capability is the kind of album that goes a long way to explain why all of the press photos of Wood leave her face conspicuously absent from the shot. Itâ€™s an album that speaks of pain, of not avoiding your problems but possibly not ready to line up face to face with them either. Ultimately an album rife with mystery, strength, and vulnerability, Wood bravely plumbs the depths of emotion and offers it to the world.
-Matt Fink , 4/16/01 SPLENDID EZINE:
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A Negative Capability
A Negative Capability showcases Elisabeth Wood’s soft soprano. She sounds like Chan Marshall or SinÃ©ad O’Connor, albeit without the force that O’Connor generally puts behind her phrasing. Wood’s tone and tempo are always gentle and meditative, matching her lyrics. Thoughtful, witty and cerebral, she measures love and loss with a really long yardstick; the emotional events she’s singing about may have happened to her — at least some of them — but she’s managed to distance herself from them. If it is possible for a human being to sound arch and dreamy at the same time, then Wood is a master of that emotional juxtaposition.
Wood’s lyrics are like fairy tales told by Angela Carter or Robert Coover: literate, richly painted and occasionally bloody. “Love is Meat” is a prime example of this aesthetic: “Love is a chicken breast, large and smooth and wide and awkward”, and later, “Love says you must sit down and taste my meat”. The song gives you the feeling that Cook has been reading the Norwegian and Irish folk source material for King Lear , and it makes the hairs on the back of your neck prickle. If it sounds as though I’m trying to be particularly erudite when referring to Fancie, that’s because Cook’s aesthetic is informed by erudition: she sings in a Latin mass choir. In “Punkin” she swirls together the images of a carved, hollowed pumpkin and a diminutive name for sweethearts, and concludes in her chorus that “emptiness will make us flicker”. Oddly enough, however, her sound is always happy and golden, much in the same way that a sunset signifies a dying day, yet has an undeniably sweet draw.
If I had one suggestion for Wood as a performer, it’s that she should enunciate a bit more crisply. Even when BjÃ¶rk is engaging in her most Bobcat Goldthwaite-like growls, it is possible to hear every syllable of every word she’s singing. I have read that Wood deliberately sung in a lower register than her natural pitch, and this may have been the cause of some of her less comprehensible moments. Wood’s lyrics are so original that I hate to miss any of them, and if that lower register is going to become a permanent practice, then I’m sure that with time she’ll discover more ways to manipulate her voice.
Wood follows her imagination and lets it take her music where it will, which is anything but a negative capability. You’ll definitely fancy this CD for your collection, and I recommend acquiring it post-haste.
— Jenn Sikes