Lisa Germano’s talent for producing stirring music remains clear on her ninth album, No Elephants, but it comes with asking a bit more of her listeners.
Since Germano’s earlier solo work, the number of instruments in play on her albums has narrowed; there’s very little drum work and the piano is most dominant, but her vocal delivery is never less than emotionally open and broad. A reliable beat may have made the songs more palatable as sad, pretty background music, but without that, I’d argue that No Elephants makes for sad, beautiful in-your-face music.
Germano’s liner notes indicate an album about disconnection – “it seems as if I could replace all the shit in my head, my troubles relating to humans back to the earth and its beings’ troubles relating back to me” – so appropriately, after a sample-piece of foreshadowing, “Ruminants” kicks the album off in a disparate but tuneful fashion. A unique song addressing the way some ruminants (hoofed animals) are (re-)fed — “Throw up / start over” — Germano cleverly ties the idea to “I need / four stomachs / to deal.” In fact, the album is permeated with a distinct sense of having to deal with things like “Apathy and the Devil,” before disconnecting from the world. On standout track “Haunted,” Germano sings “Certain days / we’ll have to come / back to earth.” Tracks “A Feast,” “And So On,” and “Last Straws For Sale,” also deal with world weariness, the latter with a title that speaks to Germano’s way with words, but those words are so sparse on No Elephants, even Germano’s more straightforward lyrics have an oblique quality, naturally lending themselves to being more than the sum of their parts. But the content is usually a bit more surreal than something completely obscure.
Musically, there are occasions when it seems like a song will descend into and remain a hushed jingle, before surprisingly hitting a crescendo that makes it all come together in breathtaking fashion. Title track “No Elephants” has the same kind of emotional upsurge found in Kate Bush’s “This Woman’s Work,” while alluding to the most common thread I find in the album: “All plugged in / and tuned out.”
If Germano’s album is about her sense of disconnect with people and earth, it eminently succeeds in evoking such. It also makes a good case for why she should continue making music out of it all.